5.06.2011

MISSION & MANDATE--What About the Great Commission? (Updated)

What is the church's mission and mandate? Is a church determined to be faithful by what it is doing "out there" as opposed to what happens on the Lord's Day? Just what is the Great Commission? And what did Jesus mean when he commissioned his church to preach and baptize? Is that commission for everyone? I ask this because the minute concerns are raised today about worship practices contrary to the Word of God, responses follow of people trying to discredit the ordinary means that God commisioned his church to honor until Christ returns. So the suggestion today is that a faithful church is marked by how many ministries or social programs it offers to the broader society. Is this correct?

Let's play a little game of church golf. This is from D.G Hart,

How would you rate the work of your church? A ministry scorecard might include the following categories: if your church has a children's ministry give it 2 points; a welcome team ministry, 1 point; a tapeministry, 1 point (but if a tape and book ministry, 2 points). A couples' ministry should be worth 2 points as should an international student ministry, a mothers' ministry, and a newlywed ministry; but subtract a point if it is a newlywed mothers' ministry. Women's ministry should also receive 2 points and-in the spirit of equity-a men's ministry should receive the same, but if your men's group is an adjunct of Promise Keepers don't give any points-you have to start it on your own. AIDS ministries, homeless ministries, and low-income housing ministries all receive 3 points, a score befitting a big church with many resources and talented members. Throw in 1 point each for a weekly Bible study, foreign missions, and the Sacraments (2 points for the latter if your church allows the laity to set up the Lord's Supper). Finally, add 1 point for a Sunday morning service, 2 points if you have both a contemporary and a traditional service.

Now tally up your score. How did your church do? Be careful, though. Before you delight in a double-digit number you should know that this game is like golf-the higher the score, the worse the performance. The reason, of course, for this inverse method of scoring comes from our Lord himself. When he sent his disciples out into the world he prescribed the means that they would use to disciple the nations. In the Great Commission Christ tells the apostles to teach and baptize. In other words, he defined the ministry of the church as encompassing two tasks only-Word and Sacrament.

Such a narrow view of the ministry means that par for the church is 4: 1 point for preaching, 2 points for the Sacraments, and 1 for prayer. Any activity beyond these results in a bogey church.

Hart makes an excellent point with this example. The mandate that Christ gave to his church in the Great Commission is to preach and to baptize. Historically, the Great Commission has been understood to be fulfilled by ordained servants in Christ's church. Not everyone is ordained to preach and baptize. Today, however, all distinctions have been broken down so that there is no difference between what the ordained pastor does and what the layman does. For instance, I saw a church marque the other day, and under the minister section it read, "everyone".

What happens in this scenario? The mandate and mission of the church becomes marginalized as it is assumed that "real" ministry happens "out there". Social programs take a higher seat than what Christ commissioned his church to do in Matthew 28. It's no wonder church services are dying in attendance and the second service dropped. People have been taught to devalue what happens when we "come together" as Christ's body. There is no confidence that anything powerful is happening when the gospel is preached. We have been programmed to lose confidence in the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

In fact, I would argue that the more people are taught to value the specific ministry of Word and Sacrament, the other social agendas that the church is obsessed with today, will be actively pursued by those who have already been transformed by this specific means of grace that Christ has chosen to make himself known. As the saints are given the food and drink of eternal life, they are then equipped to "go out" as pilgrims to be salt and light in the world--a very different thing than what Jesus specifically commissioned his ordained servants to do in Matthew 28. The more this occurs, the greater our light becomes in the world.


So let us learn to distinguish what needs to be distinguished and realize that a church is being faithful to its mandate when due attention and place is given to the preaching of the gospel and administration of the sacraments. Return confidence to these "foolish" means, and watch our witness spring forth to the ends of the earth in a real life-changing way.

CJG

27 comments:

  1. This post brings to mind what I listened to recently in the Westminster Seminary lectures on Christ, Kingdom and Culture about the difference between the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

    Your statement: As the saints are given the food and drink of eternal life, they are then equipped to "go out" as pilgrims to be salt and light in the world (the Great Commandment) --a very different thing than what Jesus specifically commissioned his church to do in Matthew 28 (the Great Commission).

    The saints are equipped and receive the primary means of grace each Sunday when they sit under the “foolishness of preaching”. The pastor’s job is to prayerfully and diligently provide the ordinary means of grace to all those present – the preaching of the word and the sacraments of the Lord’s supper and baptism.

    The people receiving these means of grace have the responsibility of taking what they have received and bringing forth fruit in all the areas of their lives in reliance on the Holy Spirit and God’s providence.

    When reading the statement that it was unlikely to see the LURC serving the homeless, it really struck me to ask if today loving our neighbor or serving our neighbor is primarily accomplished in what it “sponsored” by our churches? Although you may not see a church sponsoring a particular community organization, you may be surprised how active the individual members are.

    The Lord has given us different gifts, interests, and spheres of influence in our daily walk with Him. I can think of so many members who volunteer in a wide variety of places in our community, have a positive influence in their work places, and work diligently with their children to identify appropriate talents for future employment that will be light and salt in this world.

    I think of those members who recognize that the preaching of the Word always accomplishes the Lord’s will, so they have brought friends to the Sunday services and the Holy Spirit has convicted these people of their need for a risen Savior. They in turn go out to serve their neighbors at work, home, and in the community at large and they also invite more people to come sit under the means of grace.

    I am hoping that your lectures in April on evangelism will be taped. It may be an interesting perspective compared to what is currently practiced in many places today!

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  2. Pastor Gordon,

    If the Great Commission is only for ordained servants, why was it originally given to a group of non-ordained fishermen instead of the established religious leaders of the day? And if this call is only for those with the gift of preaching, what of those with other spiritual gifts?

    I agree with what you say in the second to last paragraph, that proper leadership in the church leads to the church body practicing Christ's example to be servants to others and reaching out to those in society who are undesirable. But if this true, why would this same body of believers not provide the means to do so? You acknowledge that these social agendas, as you call them, are the fruit of true worship; but you quote Hart saying that the church body is not responsible to actually take part in service.

    I am also puzzled as to why you address the first part of the Great Commission, but leave out Jesus' directive to 'teach them to obey everything I have commanded you'. Preaching and baptizing are rather hollow without the proper message to preach and baptize into. Since this blog was prompted by a question about service to the poor, it is appropriate to point out that Jesus' preachings include many references to social justice issues (Mt. 5:7, Mt 5:9, Mt 5:43-48, Mt 6:1-4, Mt 7:9-12, Mt 7:15-23, Mt 7:24-27, Mt 9:10-13, Mt 12: 3-8, Mt 19:16-21, Mt 20:24-28, Mt 22:34-40, Mt 23:23-24, Mt 25:31-46, Mk 2:15-17, Mk 9:33-37, Mk 10:17-22, Mk 10:35-45, Mk 12:28-34, Mk 12:38-40, Mk 12:41-44, Lk 6:27-36, Lk 9:46-48, Lk 10:25-37, Lk 11:42, Lk 14:1-14, Lk 16:19-31, Lk 18:9-14, Lk 18:18-23, Lk 19:1-10, Lk 20:45-47, Lk 21:1-4, Jn 8:1-11, Jn 13:1-17, Jn 15:9;17, Jn 17:20-23, Jn 19:25-27). And this is a short list compared to the social justice issues discussed in the Epistles and the Old Testament prophets. Why is it assumed that such a major theme in the Bible doesn't apply to the church today?

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  3. Dear Philip,

    Thanks for the questions. My position is the historic Protestant position on the Great Commission. It’s important to know that before challenging 400 years of church history.

    You write, “If the Great Commission is only for ordained servants, why was it originally given to a group of non-ordained fishermen instead of the established religious leaders of the day?”

    This is not a valid point, Philip. This command was given just before Jesus ascension as the disciples were told to wait in Jerusalem (see Acts 1) for the Holy Spirit to come. When the Spirit came at Pentecost, then they would go out as “ordained” to the ends of the earth fulfilling this commission. Anything before this was as disciples in training, so to speak, directly under the power of Christ in his mini-commission (see Matt. 10:1) forshadowing what would come after his ascension.

    You write, “And if this call is only for those with the gift of preaching, what of those with other spiritual gifts?” What of them? I don’t see your point. Not everyone has the gift of teaching and baptizing; it is something that specifically belongs to ordained servants.

    You write, “why would this same body of believers not provide the means to do so?…you quote Hart saying that the church body is not responsible to actually take part in service.” Nothing wrong with supporting ministries that advance the causes of Christ. It should be realized, however, that a church is fulfilling its mandate from Christ when it faithfully tends to Word and Sacrament. I will state again, "As the saints are given the food and drink of eternal life, they are then equipped to "go out" as pilgrims to be salt and light in the world--a very different thing than what Jesus specifically commissioned his church to do in Matthew 28.” There seems to be in your response a failure to separate what belongs to the mission of the church with what a Christian does in society as a Christian.

    You write, “I am also puzzled as to why you address the first part of the Great Commission, but leave out Jesus' directive to 'teach them to obey everything I have commanded you'. Preaching and baptizing are rather hollow without the proper message to preach and baptize into.”

    What do you mean by leave out the first part of the Great Commission? How are disciples made? As I observed in the post, they are made by teaching and baptizing, WORD and SACRAMENT. Is everyone called to baptize? These things belong together. And I have no idea what you mean that these things are hollow. As stated, a good dose of the means of grace will de faco wake up sluggish pew sitters to tell other the wonderful things Christ has done for them.

    You write, “Why is it assumed that such a major theme in the Bible doesn't apply to the church today.” I reject the premise of this statement. The whole point of the post is that the church is to tend to this, via specifically what is commanded in the Great Commission.

    Thanks for the verses, I love all of them dearly.

    I would like you to interact with this statement in the post, “The mandate and mission of the church becomes marginalized as it is assumed that "real" ministry happens "out there."…It's no wonder church services are dying in attendance and the second service is being dropped. People have been taught to devalue what happens when we "come together" as Christ's body.”

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  4. A question here to better understand your congregation.

    Since your parish places a heavy emphasis on two services each sunday, does all of the congregation attend both services or do most people typically attend only one?

    Are they required to come to both?
    Thank you,
    Bernard

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  5. Hi Bernard, welcome back. Yes, we greatly value the means of the grace. So it's not a sort of forced thing for people to come back to worship God--here we meet him in the riches of grace to us. As the scholar Sinclair Ferguson just said at a conference, "The litmus test for the quality of the morning worship service is the evening service." - If you are fed with the bread of life, why would you not want to come back, or why would you drop it? Yes, we have most of the flock return for the evening service. Thanks, CJG

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  6. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteuosness: for they shall be filled. Matt 5:6

    Not attending the second service is like missing a significant meal for my soul.

    Would rather be no where else on earth - than in worship, on the Lord's Day! Hebrews 4

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  7. Yes, what else is more important than coming before the throne of grace?

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  8. In response to the final paragraph of your first comment back to me, I have a few thoughts:

    I disagree with the premise of your statement. You just wrote 3 blogs about NCCTK. All discussion about their theology aside, we can agree that they are a missional church, right? And their attendance certainly cannot be described as lackluster. I attend a church where the preaching of the Word includes its themes on social justice issues. Our attendance is not fading.

    I do, however, agree that the drop in church attendance is an issue. But I believe it is a symptom of the “I deserve it” mentality. There is a real sense of individualism in our society. Look at all the single-player video games out there, or how many people walk around listening to their iPods ignoring everyone around them, or the high amount of importance that is put on how much 'stuff' one has (just watch any commercial on TV). We are taught that the stuff you want is more important than the relationships you have. The value that should come for gathering together for worship and praising God is replaced with the value we are told we have if our car is shiny, or our clothes are nice enough and come from the right store, or our phone is the latest, coolest thing. We are taught that we are entitled to everything we want, and that our relationships with God and each other don't really matter.

    In regards to the second service: we are told in Hebrews to “let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25). As it is plainly stated, the purpose of meeting together includes encouraging each other to demonstrate Christian love and continue in good deeds. The purpose is clearly stated, but the frequency is not. How do we know this means meeting on Sunday morning and late afternoon? Why not early afternoon as well? Or an all day gathering? Why is twice on Sunday the magic number? Now, I want to make it clear that I am in no way against a Sunday evening service. But where in the Word is the evening service's high importance laid out for us? If regular attendance at the evening worship service is more important that an awareness of the needs of those around us (I draw this assumption from your reaction to the question prompting this blog, and your stressing of the evening service in the blog and in your response to my prior comment), why isn't the frequency of “meeting together” more clearly defined, discussed, and stressed in the Bible? And why are social justice issues a constant theme throughout the entire Bible? In response to Catechist, Heb. 4 speaks beautifully of taking a Sabbath rest. And no one is denying the blessing of this. But it doesn't indicate Sabbath rest including (or being limited to) a morning and evening service. And one closing thought on Sinclair Ferguson's statement about a Church litmus test: is this in any way biblical; and if so, where is it found in the Bible?

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  9. Pastor Gordon,

    Please read the third paragraph of my first comment again. I didn't say you left out the first part of the Great Commission, I said that you didn't address the second part, Jesus' directive to 'teach them everything I have commanded you.” And I am in no way calling the Great Commission hollow. What I am saying is that preaching and baptizing are hollow if they aren't founded on Christ's ministry. Again, Jesus follows the directive to preach and baptize with the instructions to 'teach them everything I have commanded you.” You speak of Word and Sacraments in worship. But what is the Word if not what Jesus taught us (and the rest of the Word of God)? And as I pointed out in my first comment, service to each other and to the poor is a major theme in Christ's ministry (and the rest of the Bible). And this brings us back to the question that prompted this blog.

    You are right when you say there is a “a failure to separate what belongs to the mission of the church with what a Christian does in society as a Christian” in my response. And that is because the mission of the church IS what a Christian does in society as a Christian. What is the Church if not the body of believers? And what is the value of the mission of this body of believers if it is not lived out day after day? If I am reading your post correctly (and I hope that I am not), you are saying that 'The Church' is a separate entity from the body of believers. Where is this taught in the Bible?

    You state in your blog that “the minute I raised concerns about worship practices contrary to the Word of God, there was a response of trying to discredit what we do because of a lack of community programs.” We are told in the book of James that faith without deeds is useless. Even if you separate the Church from the body of believers, you say that the Word preached should be the impetus to the faithful following of God's word. And the book of James (and several other references in the Bible) is quite clear in how it describes what true faith lived out looks like.

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  10. I will address your question about the two services in a separate post, but first things first.

    You state, we should put our theology aside and get right down to the business of missional works and social justice programs.

    We must start with what God commands. He is sovereign over us; we are subject to him he is not subject to us. Therefore, we cannot judge the effects of social justice programs correctly if theology is set aside.

    Otherwise, practically, almost every church that is erected would be accepted by Christ that bears his name but this simply is not the case. See the warnings and distinctions in the letters to the churches of Asia (Rev 3).

    We must first bear the “marks of a true church” as delineated throughout the Word, confessed throughout Christian history and practiced by the Reformed churches.

    You ask, “What is the Church if not the body of believers?”
    Our theology/doctrine must agree with God’s word and bear the marks of a true church for our works to be accepted, per James 2. Before we can ever appeal to James 2 (faith and works) we must first have Christ’s righteousness imputed to us and be living according to the faith that God commands.

    NCCTK has a religious theological system that they follow. They are also way out-of-bounds according to the defining marks of a true church.

    When any church usurps God’s way for their ways – the result is not good. God has given us his word how he will judge wayward ministries (Matt. 7:21). We should never appeal to our works first above theology and doctrine, Word and Sacrament.

    We must judge the church, our missions and works, subsequently - only upon God’s Word. Without the marks of the true church a missional church is only a church- in-name, even though they may perform many good works and have wonderful church programs and even perform miracles (Matt. 7:21).

    If we simply live well and be ever so diligent to frame our lives according to the “light of nature” or “religious systems we happen to erect” and appeal to our good works - our works are also useless.

    Jesus says there is none good, no not one. And Isaiah the prophet records, all our works are as filthy rags. We must then ask ourselves, how are our works accounted as righteous?

    You ask, “But what is the Word if not what Jesus taught us (and the rest of the Word of God)?”

    A good illustration of this is when Jesus fed 5000 of his disciples in John 6. Many people came for the food and continued to follow him for a while but by the time he finished declaring to them the Word and how they must eat of his body, they all rejected him but 12 of his disciples. By the time Chapter 6 ends he is practically down to eleven disciples.

    I have no doubt that NCCTK could keep upward of 5000 people regularly attending their social functions considering the emphasis on what “marks” they posses as a church”. Ministering to the 5000 at the expense of truth, we set theology aside assuming that social justice programs are of a higher order. Yet we are commanded to preach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).

    The Church is not defined by numbers or social justice programs -neither are our good works accepted by God unless we have Christ’s imputed righteousness and not our own (Phil 3:9). Our works can never add anything to our salvation (Eph2:8-9). Good works are simply the effect of the first cause (James 2). And even these good works were before ordained that we should walk in them – that we should not boast with the intention of having accomplished something for God (Eph 2:10)

    Consider carefully what theology Christ requires of you, outside of your works, and before emphasizing or boasting in social justice church programs. Good works will be followed by faith out of gratitude.

    The Word of God bears witness why the Reformed have historically not boasted “missionally” in the work they do – yet do them.

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  11. Catachrist, please do not misquote me. You quote me as saying “we should put our theology aside and get right down to the business of missional works and social justice programs.” I did not say that. I did not even remotely imply to that. Please read again what I wrote in my previous post when I said to put discussions of theology aside.

    I was responding to Pastor Gordon's quote that 'the mandate and mission of the church becomes marginalized as it is assumed that "real" ministry happens "out there."…It's no wonder church services are dying in attendance and the second service is being dropped.'

    I am in no way advocating that we put sound theology aside for the sake of a works-righteousness gospel. Far from it. My point was to respond to his connection between a churches social justice views, and their attendance. My reference to NCCTK was to illustrate the flaw in his argument that a church where social justice matters is bound to lose membership. NCCTK's theology has already been discussed at length in previous blog posts. This is why I was putting that discussion aside, it has happened already.

    You state that “We should never appeal to our works first above theology and doctrine, Word and Sacrament.” I completely agree! And nowhere in my comment do I say or imply otherwise!

    You say “The Church is not defined by numbers or social justice programs -neither are our good works accepted by God unless we have Christ’s imputed righteousness and not our own (Phil 3:9). Our works can never add anything to our salvation (Eph2:8-9). Good works are simply the effect of the first cause (James 2). And even these good works were before ordained that we should walk in them – that we should not boast with the intention of having accomplished something for God (Eph 2:10)” And again, I agree with you. And again, nowhere in my comment have I said or implied otherwise.

    Nowhere do I boast of good works. Nowhere do I advocate works-righteousness. Nowhere do I say that we can somehow justify ourselves by what we do.

    You state “Good works will be followed by faith out of gratitude.” I assume that is a typo and you mean “Faith will be followed by good works out of gratitude”. And again, I completely agree with you. But I can only assume from Pastor Gordon's strong reaction to the question prompting this blog that he does not agree with this. (The original blog does not respond to the question with an attitude of not bragging about works, but rather a denial of works)

    You write that “Good works are simply the effect of the first cause”. I agree. Except for the use of the word “simply”. Please tell me if I am understanding you incorrectly, but putting the word “simply” in there implies that works are nothing more than a possible after thought. This is where the book of James (specifically 2:14-26) has strong statements.

    What does it say about the 'first cause' if we find ourselves in the situation of showing little to no 'effect'?

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  12. Dear Philip,
    I will answer this, but I do have to admit, there are so many theological concerns in your answers I am not even sure where to begin. I find problems with almost every single sentence. The main problem here is that you are not read in the Reformed tradition, and are trying to impose upon the tradition something completely foreign to the coherent system of doctrine already agreed upon by confessional churches. I don’t have time to answer things that have been made clear the last 400 years in confessional Reformed churches.

    Nevertheless, I will address your concerns. You write, “You speak of Word and Sacraments in worship. But what is the Word if not what Jesus taught us (and the rest of the Word of God)?” I don’t think we are connecting here at all. Again, this is not a valid point, Philip. If you look carefully at the text, you will notice that the Great Commission has three participles: go, baptize and teach. The command here is to “make disciples”. All three of these verbal adjectives are dependent on this single imperative and are translated as commands dependent on this main verb. In other words, when we go, baptize, and teach, we make disciples. Who does this, Philip? You? Are you a sent one ordained to the ministry (Romans 10)? Do you baptize? Are you a pastor/teacher? Are you suggesting that this applies to all Christian indiscriminately? I will post some Reformed authors on this for you below. This is for ordained servants, Philip. And the ordained servant's mission is to “make disciples” as he is sent by Christ, as he baptizes, and teaches Christ's ways. When and where does this happen? Let me put it to a question(and you really need to answer this), what do you believe happens that is special when you come together for corporate worship?
    You write, “If I am reading your post correctly (and I hope that I am not), you are saying that 'The Church' is a separate entity from the body of believers.” You’re not reading me correctly. You need to read my post again. The focus of the post was the Great Commission. The assumption is being made that we are not fulfilling our mandate if we are not down in Bellingham handing out food. I said the church is fulfilling its mandate when its ordained servants do what Christ commissioned them to do in the Great Commission. As we go, baptize and teach, the saints are equipped to “go to the streets” (yes, saints are the body of Christ), and tell others the wonderful things Christ has done for them. Should a church support and send food to the poor, and help the needy, ABSOLUTELY—through the members that have been equipped. You’re correct that all of us are the body of Christ. But I was defending the position that the LURC is fulfilling the Great Commission every Lord’s Day as we tend to a Word and Sacrament ministry. Fruits of tending to this calling will be immense, in fact, you should see the results of this spill over in our members. You don’t get that by liturgical dancing and social agendas, Philip. You’re there for entertainment. You get these results when your minister faithfully preaches Christ and him crucified.

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  13. Philip,

    Now to address your misc arguments. You write, “You just wrote 3 blogs about NCCTK. All discussion about their theology aside, we can agree that they are a missional church, right? And their attendance certainly cannot be described as lackluster.”

    Careful with this one, according to your standard, Christ himself didn’t cut it. The path is narrow, Philip. As for missional, do you mean with gimmicks? 4X4s, theaters dramas, etc. Have you not read 1 Cor. 2?

    You write, “I attend a church where the preaching of the Word includes its themes on social justice issues.” I’m saddened to hear this. Did you know that the great Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones said that the reason the church died in Europe is because ministers started preaching social agendas. As they say, if you forget your history, your doomed to repeat it… Give the other churches some time. You might read my post on the CRC and the Belhar confession here: http://christopherjgordon.blogspot.com/2009/03/crc-and-belhar-confession.html

    You might also read my post on the Reformed Dilemma here: http://christopherjgordon.blogspot.com/2010/01/our-faddy-american-church-mess-reformed.html

    I do agree with your statements on individualism. Good points. It’s a real problem and we have not learned what it means to belong to a covenant community.
    With regard to the second service, your reference to the “when” is irrelevant to me, that is a circumstance and not elemental. If the elders call it, we should long to be there.

    Yes, there is a pattern of morning and evening worship on the LORD’s Day, see Psalm 92. As for the purpose of meeting, are you suggesting that our meeting together for worship is about our good works and not about God’s means of grace? Hebrews 10 is not exhaustive and you left out a crucial element, “let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” How do we do that? Your approach to worship is all wrong; you suggest that we are to come as givers when Christ calls us to come as needy beggars of his grace. And by what means does this come? Read carefully Romans 10, it’s all about Christ descending upon you in the means of grace through the preached Word.

    You write, “And one closing thought on Sinclair Ferguson's statement about a Church litmus test: is this in any way biblical; and if so, where is it found in the Bible?”
    Yes, its Biblical. Psalm 84:10 “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” His point is that if you are truly fed with the bread of life in the first service, the second will show it. How could you not be there! Are you being fed, Philip, with the true bread from heaven?

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  14. Philip,

    Some Reformed authors on the Great Commission:
    Matthew Henry writes: “The commission he gives to those whom he sent forth; Go ye therefore. This commission is given, (1.) To the apostles primarily, the chief ministers of state in Christ’s Kingdom, the architects that laid the foundation of the church. Now those that had followed Christ in the regeneration, were set on thrones (Luke xxii. 30)…. (2.) It is given to their successors, the ministers of the gospel, whose business it is to transmit the gospel from age to age, to the end of the world in time, as it was theirs to transmit it from nation to nation, to the end of the world in place, and no less necessary. The Old Testament promise of a gospel ministry is made to a succession (Isa. lix. 21); and this must be so understood, otherwise how could Christ be with them always to theconsummation of the world? Christ, at his ascension, gave not only apostles and prophets, but pastors and teachers, Eph. iv. II.”

    David Dicksen writes, “Christ has instituted a ministry of teachers and rulers of his Church to continue from his resurrection to the end of the world; for he says, Go ye, make disciples, teach them obedience to me; I will be with you to the end of the world…. The community of ministers and rulers of the Church respective have all the nations of the earth under their charge to gather disciples to Christ out of them…. The community of believers, or the body of covenanted and baptized disciples, are not the subject of this authority granted for gathering of churches, administration of doctrine, sacraments, discipline and other public ordinances: but the community of the ministers, teachers and rulers, contra—distinguished from the body of disciples which is taught and governed; for it is said, Go ye, my ministers, make ye disciples, baptize ye and teach ye them…. The ministers of the gospel, teaching and ruling elders respective, are the true successors of the apostles in the dispensation of the doctrine, sacraments and discipline appointed by Christ, for they are appointed in the same patent with the apostles, and spoken to in the person by Christ, saying, I will be with you to the end of the world.”

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  15. Hi Philip, my apologies if I stated your intentions incorrectly in the first part of my last post.

    Just trying to understand how you think NCCTK will-worship methods are effective, on the one hand, then state you believe in almost all the other gospel assertions I made on the other?

    Christ went from 5000 disciples to eleven….how would NCCTK judge his effectiveness in today market where social church programs and the numbers game is of high importance? If your ministers preached Reformed doctrine (like the doctrine you just said you believe) your church would likely have similar results as to what Christ’s preaching produced.

    However, the “effect” is not ours to determine (2 Cor. 2: 15-16) and we are not to discard God’s ways and replace them with our own.

    We are not commanded to walk by sight, but by faith in accord with God’s commandments.

    If you love him – keep his commandments (John 14:15) both in worship and in doctrine, in Word and in Sacrament.

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  16. Being very busy in service for the “kingdom” can be done without a true knowledge of our Holy God. However, a true knowledge of the Holy God (WCF question 4,5 and 6) always results in serving our fellow man, made in His image.

    All of us posting definitely agree that Christians must go out and serve their fellow man. They will know you are Christians by your love. Obviously, we also desire intimate knowledge of the true and living God.

    A church that preaches the Word and administers the Sacraments is a church that feeds its people with the whole Word of God, equipping them to go out to help those in need. We serve where God’s providence leads, individually or in groups, near and far, where our talents are used. It is a beautiful service done in thankfulness to the Lord.

    What we do seem to disagree on, however, is what is preached and how churches approach the worship of a Holy God. Is the Sunday “lesson” one with minimal emphasis on scripture but on feeling good about what praise we can offer God ?

    Where is the reverence of a Holy God and His Word? The people were in awe and fear when His voice thundered from Mt. Sinai and they begged for an intercessor (Moses). Are churches begging Christ to be our intercessor, understanding that we cannot come on our own? It is not okay to come with our own idea of approaching God (like Cain).

    My friends were very excited about a recent mentos-and-diet-coke display during their service (Sat night service - no need to come on Sun). Churches are encouraging the people to come into His presence in any way that they can imagine.

    “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes”. My children would always “uh oh” as those words appeared over and over in Judges. They knew chastening would follow. Take note that the Israelites did what was RIGHT in their own eyes, not what they thought was wrong. But it was wrong. (See also 2 Timothy 4)

    The message that we are vile sinners, who cannot approach a Holy God without the perfect Mediator, Jesus Christ, is the gospel and the mission of the Church. How are the people attending the service of Saddleback-like churches led to a saving faith in the Lord when this is not declared?

    The gospel brings heart- wrenching pain to the penitent sinner. It pricks the heart of those who are His, reminding us of our sinful nature and His bountiful forgiveness to us. When we hear this preached we either leave offended that our own righteousness is not enough or we leave in awe humbled by His mercy and majesty. How does “Off-Roading with God” or “Your Abundant Life Now” relate to the offer of the gospel??

    I fully agree with your individual-is-primary discussion. We now even allow each person to make his own individual god and allow the pastors to make Him so vague that no one needs to search the scriptures with diligence to find and know the true God.

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  17. Bernard here again,

    I want to ask a question. Pastor Chris if I am correct with your church's history, you formed in 1997 after the reformed church allowed the ordination of women. Correct wrong?

    Why then if you went to all that work of serperating and forming a new church, are you using a new hymnal that has been edited by an ordained female pastor?

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  18. Hi Bernard,

    You write, "if I am correct with your church's history, you formed in 1997 after the reformed church allowed the ordination of women. Correct wrong?

    Wrong, the URCNA formed to return to what we believe had been lost in the tradition of churches that we came out o. We desired a renewed appreciation for our Protestant confessions, Christ-centered preaching, a return to Biblical worship, and an honoring of the authoritative, infallible Word of God. The ordination of women was a symptom of a larger problem of the rejection of the authority of Scripture.

    You write, "Why then if you went to all that work of serperating and forming a new church, are you using a new hymnal that has been edited by an ordained female pastor?"

    Is this all you can come up with? I have no idea what you are talking about--we use the Trinity Hymnal, and the 1976 Psalter.

    Bernard, are you done yet with trying to find something to attack us? You're scrapping and not finding. You have been invited numerous times now to join us, I extend that to you again. CJG

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  19. Interesting passage in Acts 8:1-4, Chris.
    It states;
    1And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. 4Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.

    So, here we see the whole church, except the "ordained" apostles, being scattered.
    And what did this laity do as they went? According to the inspired word of God, they "preached"
    Vs 4 states that it was "Those who had been scattered" that "preached" and Vs 1 defines those who had been scattered as "all except the apostles"
    I know, I could hardly believe it myself.

    I am also puzzled over this "gift of baptism" that you keep mentioning Chris. I have looked and looked but I can not find "the gift of baptism" mentioned anywhere. Do you have chapter and verse for that one?

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  20. Dear Anonymous, thanks for the question. Assuming, as you are, that Acts is normative for the church today, are you suggesting that everyone is commissioned based on Acts 8 to preach and baptize?

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  21. Chris, you wrote “Assuming, as you are, that Acts is normative for the church today…”

    I have neither assumed or suggested anything. I have merely noted what the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to record in the book of Acts. If you do not believe it means what it says Chris, then I think you should, using scripture to interpret scripture, not by the use of “rulings of councils and Popes”, explain why.

    That is the nice way of saying that I do not care to descend into the mire of the multiple edicts on, and interpretations of, formative vs. normative, or combinations thereof, that have been debated and ruled upon over the past 2000 years,(and yes Chris, that would include the last 400 years as well), of Church history.

    What has the Lord God specifically said, not what have men or women or the current ruling paradigm decided that it means.

    Put another way, Sola Scriptura.

    As you obviously have a very strong opinion on this subject, I assume, (notice that HERE, I am assuming), that your opinion, which you seem to wish to bind others to as a commandment from God, is based on a solid “Thus saith the Lord” somewhere in the New Testament. I was just wondering where I could find that chapter and verse, particularly in this instance, as it would seem that your opinion, if not taken from scripture, would contradict the very actions of the followers of Christ as recorded in Acts.

    Secondly, did you have that scriptural reference for the “gift of baptism”?

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  22. Dear Anonymous (May 10--10:28 AM),
    Thanks for the response and your clarification. First, I have no idea what you are talking about referencing the “gift of baptism”? Maybe I missed it, but where did I use that language? I would be glad to clarify. Second, when did I say I do not believe Acts 8? If you are going to interact on this blog, I expect serious and engagement of the subject matter, this borderlines on ad hominem. And it’s pretty arrogant to say you want to ignore all the church history of interpretation on this issue and “just say what the Bible says”. We call this, dear Anonymous, Biblicism. Did you know Harold Camping interprets the Bible saying almost verbatim what you have said here in despising all the history that went before him. So it’s inconsistent, to say the least, in challenging me to honor the principle of the "analogy of Scripture" while you directly disregard the “analogy of faith” principle, which, in fact, comes as a command from God (see 2 Tim. 3).

    All I am arguing for here is the classic Protestant position on the Great Commission, namely, that Matt. 28 is speaking to ordained servants to make disciples through the specific means of grace (preaching/baptizing) so that these newly made disciples would go out and be salt and light unto the ends of the earth. And I am not alone in "binding the conscience" as you say of me, on this issue in our Protetant heritage. I'd be glad to publish a list of people who said the same thing, begining with Matthew Henry, Calvin, etc. Unless you are advancing the erroneous position that all are “sent” as per Romans 10, then I fail to see why you are raising such a concern over this. The answer to Acts 8 is simple: there is obviously a distinction between the formal ordination and the general priesthood of all believers in making known the gospel. Again, unless you are willing to completely swallow up the office of pastor-teacher in the general priesthood of all believers, I don’t see what you are fighting for—argument for the sake of argument? You will have to do much better than that.

    Third, I would like you to reveal yourself and stand by your argumentation in name. That’s only fair. Best Regards, Chris

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  23. Dear Anonymous, it sounds like Acts 8, is the fruit of Mathew 28, as the disciples fulfilled the Great Commission, God’s people were equipped to bear witness to the hope that they had in Christ and the gospel. Obviously, the ordained servants were very successful in making disciples, as evidenced by Acts 8, but I am not aware of the New Testament authors actually teaching that the general office of all believers swallows up the special offices.
    This line of thinking reminds me of the teaching I received from doctor John Frame, doctor Frame found was very comfortable standing against the reformed tradition, a tradition, which he was a part of, but a tradition that he was trying to revise. I believe that men like Frame are concerned about evangelism, this is an honorable concern, but we must be very careful that we never send God back to school, and try to teach Him, assuming that our ways are better than His. This is what Peter did after he confessed his faith in Christ, and then he suggested that Jesus consider a better way than the cross. “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Those who call into question the primacy of the foolishness of preaching (ordained means of grace) are calling into question the means, and the keys, which God has ordained.

    Rev Mark J. Stromberg

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  24. Rev. Stromberg, Appreciate your understanding here in applying Acts 8 as the fruit of the Great Commission--very helpful! As you note, there are many pastors pushing revisionistic ideals against the specific history and ordination committments that they promised to honor. Let's hope such is not the case here.

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  25. Beautiful exposition of Acts 8 and continuing with Peter's declaration in opposition to Christs sovereign path - thanks for that Rev Stromberg - a mini sermon indeed

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  26. Thank you for a clear post, pastor.

    In discussions I have entered on this subject, there has been a surprising lack of clarity for the role of the church. Our confession lays out pretty clearly the marks of the church and the duties of the office bearers, distinguishing them from the office and duties of the civil magistrate. The point I always try to make is this: the key mark that makes a church unique from everything else is its message - the message of salvation to sinners.

    If the church's message is only one of benevolence, community, stewardship, etc, it has clearly failed to meet the mission mandate and is not unique from the world. Worse, it may find bedfellows with apostates.

    As I write, I am reminded of Titus 2:11-14. "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works." I once wrote a meditation on this entitled "Grace: The Great Schoolmaster" for a consistory meeting.

    Our commission is to bring a message of grace. Grace, of course, only makes sense in the context of a knowledge of our offenses to a Holy God. A zealous heart for right living follows as a natural consequence of the message of grace “purifying” us.

    Be encouraged, pastor, as you bring much needed clarity. Again, with the words to Titus 2:15 "Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you."

    Blessings to you,
    Ian

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