How a Belief in Regenerate Church Membership Should Impact Preaching

“Wesley, if six weeks in one place, would preach myself and the people dead.”

Those words are from John Venn, a contemporary of Wesley. Alongside other members of the Eclectic society, Venn was discussing the apostles method of preaching. His point was that the local church pastor has a different ministry than a traveling evangelist, like Wesley. The apostles were more like traveling preachers than local church pastors. Therefore to preach like Wesley, week after week, would not lead to healthy sheep.

This is something I must keep in the forefront of my mind as I read through the sermons of Puritans, Edwards, and other Great Awakening heroes. Their congregations were markedly different than the one that I serve. One major difference is that people who are in attendance are here because they want to be (excepting the handful of children dragged here by parents). Those present do not face imprisonment or social shame for not attending.

I love reading books for pastoral ministry that are hundreds of years old. I’m often amazed that these men of old face similar issues that I face in the twenty-first century. Their thoughts, so often grounded in the gospel, are timeless and beneficial. It’s helpful to me to see the same types of issues hundreds of years ago, as it anchors me in eternal truth in the midst of the present streams of culture. But if I’m not careful I can start preaching to a congregation that is not my own.

What I’m meaning to say is that as a Southern Baptist I believe in regenerate church membership. That has to mean something for the way I preach on Sunday mornings. It means that while I expect to have unbelievers in our midst a vast majority of my listeners are going to be those who are followers of Jesus. This is markedly different from those who lived in Puritan England or even in the Deep South of the 1950s.

Revivalistic preaching in previous eras was far more effective because a vast majority of those gathered were Christian by name only. They were there because either social or governmental pressure required their attendance. Thus preaching mostly evangelistic messages about conversion was entirely fitting. But a steady diet of this type of preaching to believers will lead to a shallow and colloquial faith.

If we truly believe that our members are regenerate then we ought to preach in a way that is focused upon feeding the sheep and equipping the saints for the work of ministry. This is not to mean that we are not sensitive to outsiders. Nor does this mean that we do not proclaim and clearly spell out the gospel in every sermon. But it does mean that as we walk through the Scriptures our points of application are not solely focused on how a person is to be saved, but rather how believers ought to live out the Christian life.

If we are constantly trying to get our members saved then we’ve dropped the ball somewhere. I have a suspicion that the real problem is that many professing believers look a bit too much like the world, but rather than treating it as a discipleship problem we treat it as an evangelism problem. And so we keep going with revivalistic preaching and make the whole of the Christian life about where one spends eternity. It is true that we never graduate from the gospel but it is not true that we never graduate from the question of whether or not we are saved. To continue trying to get our members saved and making that the entirety of our preaching ministry will leave our sheep malnourished. And we also had better stop telling people we believe in regenerate church membership.

Shouldn’t a belief in regenerate church membership have an impact on our preaching ministry?

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Why It Was Not Good for Man to Be Alone

“And it was good…”

Those words reverberate throughout the first two chapters of Genesis. That’s why the hollow thud of Genesis 2:18 packs so much power. “It is not good that the man should be alone.” Those words don’t seem to belong in a pre-Genesis 3 world. Yet, they are here to highlight the importance of the woman to the man. His aloneness is not good.

But what of that aloneness. Why is it not good?

Early in our marriage, in my pre barbeque grill days, I loathed the times when my wife would leave for a few days to visit family. I knew that I had a steady diet of McDonalds, fish sticks, and pizza rolls until she returned. I was helpless without her mad cooking skills. So it was certainly not good that Mike was alone. But this cannot be what the text means. Adam could have been a fine cook, I’m sure.

Maybe it’s not good for Adam because he is a sexual being. Every other creature had a mate. They could all reproduce. But not Adam. Is he burning with sexual desire and so it’s not good for him to be alone? Or is it some other need which Adam has within himself that cannot be met apart from a woman? Is it an emotional need? A physical need? A spiritual need?

Yes and no.

I believe all of those are part of the answer for why it is not good for Adam to be alone. But there is a much greater reason why it’s not good for him to be alone and it’s found in the text. When God said in Genesis 1:26, “Let us make man in our image…” and then in Genesis 1:28 tasked them with being fruitful and multiply and have dominion over the earth he was tasking humanity with spreading His glory throughout the whole world. He was calling upon humanity to accurately image Him.

J.I. Packer puts it this way, referring to the task of the church:

“The task of the church is to make the invisible kingdom visible through faithful Christian living and witness-bearing.” (Concise Theology, 194)

So the fundamental reason why it was not good for Adam to be alone was not because of a need to fulfilled within Adam, but rather because of a deficiency in his ability to accurately image God. He couldn’t make the invisible kingdom visible while he was alone because the invisible kingdom is a community. Adam needed Eve to accurately reflect God.

Yes, we needed a first couple in order to have humanity be fruitful and multiply. But foundational to this is that Adam and Eve needed to live in unity with one another, “the two become one flesh” so that the inter-Trinitarian relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit could be properly modeled.

This is helpful for us to think about with our marriages. Our spouse is not given to us to fundamentally be for us and our enjoyment. It is primarily so that we can live as one flesh and represent the glory of God to the nations. My wife was given to me to help me be more like Jesus and to better represent him. That perspective certainly changes they way I view the purpose of our marriage and the reason God has given me this gift.

I feel a brief note here is needed to say that I am not intending to say here that one who is single cannot accurately image God. There is not some deficit in you which needs fulfilled by a spouse. Yet, you are called to live in community and to be fruitful and multiply in the ways in which God calls you. More could be said, but I felt a brief note about what I am NOT saying would be wise.

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Read This! 01.18.18

I didn’t intend to take a couple of weeks off from blogging, but I did. Ministry and life got a bit too busy for me to keep up my writing schedule. Hopefully I’ll be back on a regular blogging schedule now.

Six Ways Ministry Spouses Get Hurt

Yeah, these’ll do it.

Top 10 Most Important Documents Lost to History

Maybe these are all buried on Oak Island.

Eight Questions On Addictions For Pastors

Good questions to ask about our churches readiness for handling addictions.

Why Theocracy is Terrible

“Theocracies are terrible, because the god behind them is the root of all the horrors of the present age: a depraved humanity pretending to be divine.”

10 Things You Should Know About Jonathan Edwards’ Most Important Sermon

It’s also probably not the sermon you think it is.

When Spurgeon Was Invited to Preach at Barnum & Bailey Circus

Wow. What a response.

To Discouraged Pastors and Their Wives

Some helpful diagnostic questions at the end too.

Doing Political Theology

I always seem to love what Jonathan Leeman writes.

I’ve always known these machines were a scam, this proves it:

How a Fish Can Help You Answer the Question of Whether or Not You Know Jesus

How do I know that I’m saved?

This was a question that plagued me in my early walk with Christ. As a pastor, it’s also a question that I’m continually trying to help people work through. I think it’d be much easier to have confidence if we never sinned. What brings difficulty to new believers is often that first season in the valley.

After falling into sin we hear words of condemnation. “If I was really a Christian then I wouldn’t do such a thing.” But I’ve argued for a long time that better evidence of our regenerate heart isn’t so much whether or not we do or do not do things of unbelievers, but rather it’s evidenced by doing things which only believers do.

I can illustrate this with a dead fish.

Trout fishing is a big deal down here in Southwest Missouri. This means that many of the streams are clear and you can watch the fish swim up and down the stream. Our family gets special enjoyment out of going to a local fish hatchery and watching the trout swim. Occasionally you’ll see a dead fish, belly up, being carried along by the current of the powerful stream.

But what separates a live fish from a dead fish? It isn’t that on occasion they are being tossed about by the stream or even swimming with the current of the stream. Both living fish and dead fish can go with the current. But there is one thing a dead fish can never do—swim up stream. They cannot go against the current.

The same is true of believers. There are times when we go along with the current of the world. We look just like the dead fish—being carried about by the cultural stream. We look like unbelievers being tossed to and for by every wind and wave. In such a season we’ll likely question our salvation because we aren’t reflecting our new life in Christ, we’re just going downstream like nothing has changed.

But there is one thing you’ll be able to do as a believer that cannot happen as an unbeliever. You can swim up stream. You can change directions and fight the flow of the stream. As those dead in trespasses and sins, an unbeliever cannot and will not change course. It is only those made alive by God’s powerful grace who can spin around and start flowing against the current.

Do you have evidence of this in your life? Do you have a history of repentance? Not simply changing a behavior or a personality because it fits better with the present cultural flow, but a true heart change where you kick against your desires. I appreciate the way Wesley Hill describes this in his battle against same-sex attraction:

The Bible calls the Christian struggle against sin faith. it calls the fight against impure cravings holiness. So I am trying to appropriate these biblical descriptions for myself. I am learning to look at my daily wrestling with disordered desires and call it trust. I am learning to look at my battle to keep from giving in to my temptations and call it sanctification. I am learning to see that my flawed, imperfect, yet never-giving-up faithfulness is precisely the spiritual fruit that God will praise me for on the last day, to the ultimate honor of Jesus Christ. (Hill, 146)

Are you fighting against sin at it’s root? Only believers can do that.