The resurgence of Calvinism in the evangelical world in recent years has, I think, reflected an increasing concern among many Christians for purity of doctrine. But as Francis Schaeffer says in the quote below, pure doctrine by itself isn’t enough to constitute a thriving church—real community matters too. From The Church Before the Watching World:
One cannot explain the explosive dynamite, the dunamis, of the early church apart from the fact that they practiced two things simultaneously: orthodoxy of doctrine and orthodoxy of community in the midst of the visible church, a community which the world can see. By the grace of God, therefore, the church must be known simultaneously for its purity of doctrine and the reality of its community.
This became a conviction of mine many years ago, and I wish now that I could identify who it was that influenced me in that direction. When I was converted, the Jesus Movement and all of its attending festivals and conferences were, at first glance, where it seemed God was primarily at work. Speaking at those events, as well as the Tuesday-night teaching ministry I was involved with back then (TAG), had the feel of something significant. And God did use those contexts in wonderful ways.
But it wasn’t long before the limitations of these venues began to appear—and near the top of the list was a lack of real community. Moving from festival to conference to teaching nights didn’t afford anyone the opportunity to practice the many “one anothers” of Scripture. And the more I studied Acts and Ephesians and became amazed at the goodness of God’s plan for community in the local church, the more that dynamic became dissatisfying.
Humanly speaking, that dynamic is what ultimately let to the end of TAG and the beginning of Covenant Life Church. To many, that was a dumb move—we changed from teaching 2,000 people to teaching 20. But community was being built, and whereas TAG, festivals, and conferences would have inevitably declined and ended, Covenant Life Church continues to build. So it’s a dumb move I would do over again in a heartbeat. Schaeffer was right: real community matters.
At the Next conference in May, we’re going to spend a few days getting teaching on the doctrine of the church. I’m praying that those who join us will walk away amazed by the goodness of God’s plan for the local church and motivated to sink down their roots in the real community that only the church can offer as the fruit and effect of the gospel.
One generation of believers transferring the truth of God to the next generation is a theme that can be found throughout Scripture. Take just a handful of biblical passages and the lessons we can learn from them:
- The older generation is called to proclaim to a younger generation the glorious deeds of God: his deliverance, faithfulness, and righteousness (Psalms 71:18, 78:4, 145:4)
- To some degree the faithfulness of one generation can be traced back to the faithfulness of a previous generation (Psalm 78:5–8)
- In contrast, the faithlessness of a generation can often be traced to a generational distance from faithful believers (Judges 2:10–11)
- Believers in an older generation can hope for long life in order to carry out this stewardship (Psalm 71:18)
- This heritage is often passed on in the home, from parents to children (Deuteronomy 6:6–9)
- A vision for this heritage extends to a generation that is yet unborn (Psalms 22:30, 78:6, 102:18)
- Fundamentally, this heritage is rooted in the unchanging faithfulness of God to every generation (Genesis 9:12–13, 17:9, Deuteronomy 7:9, Psalms 33:11, 89:1)
This succession from one generation to another is also reflected in New Testament pastoral ministry. Pastors are called to identify and train their successors, following Paul’s model: he trained Timothy and expected him to train a generation of teachers that Paul himself could not see (2 Timothy 1:13–14, 2:2).
This stewardship of the gospel requires that churches and pastors think seriously about transitions. This heritage is a priority in Sovereign Grace, and a topic that recently caught the attention of journalist Collin Hansen in his article "Gospel Integrity and Pastoral Succession." In the end, Colin writes, “Succession isn’t simple. It isn’t smooth. It’s not often successful. Yet it’s a matter of gospel integrity.” You can read Collin’s full article here.
July 13, 2010 by C.J. Mahaney
Categories: Local church
To close out his Next 2010 conference message, “The Church,” Kevin DeYoung gave a list of suggestions for how to be a difference maker in the local church. He said:
• Find a good local church.
• Get involved.
• Become a member.
• Stay there as long as you can.
• Put away thoughts of a revolution for a while.
• Join the plodding visionaries.
• Go to church this Sunday and worship in Spirit and truth.
• Be patient with your leaders.
• Rejoice when the gospel is faithfully proclaimed.
• Bear with those who hurt you.
• Give people the benefit of the doubt.
• Say “hi” to the teenager that no one notices.
• Welcome the old ladies with the blue hair and the young men with tattoos.
• Volunteer for the nursery.
• Attend the congregational meeting.
• Bring your fried chicken to the potluck like everybody else.
• Invite a friend.
• Take a new couple out for coffee.
• Give to the Christmas offering.
• Sing like you mean it.
• Be thankful someone vacuumed the carpet for you.
• Enjoy the Sundays that “click.”
• Pray extra hard on the Sundays that don’t.
• And in all of this, do not despise the days and weeks and years of small things (Zechariah 4:8–10).
I cannot recommend this message too highly. Please take time to download and listen to “The Church” by visiting the resource page at thisisnext.org
There is one more message from the conference I want to highlight. We will do that next time.
July 9, 2010 by C.J. Mahaney
Categories: Local church
As the pastor of a local church for 27 years, I am deeply grateful for every person who, when they came to Covenant Life Church, remained for many years. Those who persevered through the years and were patient with me personally and patient with my deficiencies in preaching—it was these people who ultimately made the difference in the church and helped build the church. They demonstrated their love for the Savior through their enduring service.
That's how local churches are built. Local churches are built when humble servants commit, and remain, and serve, and do so over a period of years. Local churches are built by those Kevin DeYoung identified as “plodding visionaries.” In his message at our Next conference in May, Kevin DeYoung made this compelling point.
It is easy to blast the church for all her failures. It is harder to live in the church day after day, year after year, with all of the ho hum, hum drum, and to slowly and consistently make a difference.
What we need are fewer revolutionaries and a few more plodding visionaries. We need to ask the right questions, we need to have the right expectations, and we need to establish the right vision.…
Here is my burden for our generation: along with all of the necessary pleas we have to be earnest and intense and radical and sold out. With all of that, I just also want to wave the banner from Zechariah 4:10, “Do not despise the days of small things.” That is what I mean by being plodding visionaries.
If you are a visionary, you don’t have your head in the sand. You are going somewhere. You are looking out. You are moving in a direction. But you are a plodder. One foot in front of the other.
Many of us are attracted to a Tasmanian Devil kind of Christianity…splattering, spinning around. You get fired up—praise God for that—and you spin out like the Tasmanian Devil ready to conquer the world for Christ and you blow up into a tree somewhere.
We need plodding visionaries.
When I wrote the book on the church I read nine books that called for a revolution. Every other day it seems like I read of a new manifesto. We may need to just simplify a little: Get on the right road and keep going.
Our generation in particular is prone to radicalism without follow-through. We want to change the world and we have never changed a diaper. You want to make a difference for Christ? Here is where you can start: this Sunday, volunteer for the nursery. Say, “Here I am, pastor. What can I do to serve?”
Without folks like this, Covenant Life Church would have never been built. No church can be built without plodding visionaries.
Kevin’s entire message, “The Church,” can be downloaded from the resource page at thisisnext.org.
June 29, 2010 by C.J. Mahaney
Categories: Local church
Kevin DeYoung is unusually gifted with language. To listen to Kevin is to hear wit and wisdom packaged in a tight economy of words. And because of this he can make a single statement that is heart revealing and perspective altering.
Here is a sampling of statements you will hear throughout his Next conference message “The Church
• The Church is Christ’s bride. And why is it that so many people think it is cool to diss Jesus’ girlfriend?
• In this day with so much postmodern squishitude people are hungry to listen to someone winsomely, humbly, wisely, say—with passion and conviction—‘Thus saith the Lord.’
• What will it profit a man if he tries to transform the culture, but loses his own children?
• As long as God is interested in his glory, he will be interested and committed to the local church. He has a vested interest in your church. Nobody loves your church more than God.
• Those of you who have issues with the church, let me warn you that disillusionment can become an idol. You can easily find your identity in being jaded.
• Our generation in particular is prone to radicalism without follow-through. We want to change the world and we have never changed a diaper.
• Can we be the young generation that loves and respects and looks up to the older generation?
• The Church is, in fact, the hope of the world, not because she gets it all right, but because she is a body with Christ for her head. So do not give up on the church. The New Testament knows nothing of churchless Christianity.
To download and listen to the entire message—“The Church
has written one of my favorite books on the local church (Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion
) and recently he delivered what is now one of my favorite sermons on loving the local church (“The Church
The content of the sermon was excellent. And not only could I not take notes fast enough, I wanted all those in Sovereign Grace who were not in attendance at the Next conference
to benefit from it. Therefore we decided to take some excerpts from the message in hope that they will create an appetite to listen to the message.
Who should listen to the message?
- Church members
- Those who love their church
- Those whose love for the church has been diminishing
- Those who think of involvement with the local church as optional
- Those who have left the local church
There is stuff in this message for us all.
In this first excerpt Kevin addressed the inevitable reality of disappointment in the local church. At some point we will all be disappointed with the church. Rather than being surprised by this we should be prepared and we should be ready to respond in a God-glorifying way.
At one point in his message Kevin introduced the various problems we read about in the church in Corinth:
Here you have a church with evidences of grace, but you have the church with all manner of problems. They have divisions and controversies and sexual immorality and power struggles and money issues and authority issues and marriage issues and anything else you can think of. That is the church.
So we ought to be realistic and I know many of you have disappointments that run very deep—deeper than I have experienced—and many of them are legitimate and people have hurt you, maybe pastors have hurt you. I am sorry. …
This is no way to excuse our own sinfulness, but it is to give us a realistic appraisal that saints and sinners we will always be. We will be disappointed at times.
He goes on to explain the reason behind these disappointments:
I think one of the most important doctrines that is missing in younger generations today—and it is the reason that people can get so tired of the church so quickly—is the doctrine of original sin. The doctrine of original sin teaches that every single human being whoever was, is, or shall be—save for Jesus—inherited from Adam a sinful nature that makes us predisposed to wickedness and rebellion.
“No one is righteous” (Romans 3:10).
“All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
“The human heart is deceitful above all else and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9).
The natural man is “dead in the trespasses and sin” (Ephesians 2:1).
By nature we pass our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another (Titus 3:3).
“All we like sheep have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6).
It is there over and over again in the pages of Scripture. And it is this doctrine with the related teachings of indwelling sin and the divided self that need to be recovered if we are to have a biblical, realistic appraisal of the local church.
So is your attitude and perspective of the local church informed by the doctrine of original sin? Is your appraisal of the local church realistic or idealistic? Please don’t misunderstand. There can be a time and place to transition from a particular local church. But prior to that decision we need to be informed by the content of Kevin’s message.
To download and listen to “The Church
”—or any of the conference messages—visit thisisnext.org