Unity in Christ

This post was originally published over at http://www.CitizenPriest.com under the heading Unity in Christ (Weekly Refreshment).



14For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity,” (Colossians 1:3-4; NASB).

Having been raised in Texas, and that largely in the country, by the time I reached middle school age I had imbibed an us vs. them mentality in regard to ethnicity. I had never really stopped to think about it, because it was not something I was forced to think about often, but I had come to think of race relations in an irreverent fashion. To me it was a game, a “my team vs. your team” kind of a thing. Then, something amazing happened.

In my seventh grade year, my mom and I joined a new church in a larger town, though we still lived in the country. At this church, I became friends with a young man of a minority ethnicity. We spent a lot of time together and had many common interests. We both loved music and would spend hours singing along with our favorite bands’ new albums. When we did church functions together, we were inseparable.

One day, as we were at one such function, he and I had gotten off alone and, as we were engaged in our usual immature banter, I made an off-color joke about choosing a group at random to be racist against. To me, this was a provocative joke. To my friend, it was no laughing matter. He quickly sat me down and, through tears, spent over an hour explaining to me the effects that racism had already had on his young life.

This discussion was eye-opening to me. I had never realized just how terrible a thing racism could be, and I vowed from then forward never to tolerate ethnic pride, partiality, or malice in myself or anyone else. I have not done so perfectly, but I have now gotten to the point where speaking about ethnic differences with any kind of irreverence turns my stomach.

In our world today, whether in rural America or urban Korea, a borough of New York City or a small village in South Africa—no matter where you go—you will find people who still imbibe the “us vs. them” mentality. This sinful mindset knows no language, gender, or ethnic boundaries, and it can still bubble up in each one of us. It can be seen in the way that we interact with one another or choose not to interact with one another. I can be seen in the way that we speak to one another or speak about one another in the absence of certain groups or people. It happens within Christianity, in spite of Christianity, and even in the name of Christianity (see the modern Social Justice movement to see how this type of ethnic partiality is being promoted as Christian).

Christ did not come to save people and leave them in their sin, but to save people from their sin. He did not come to save people and leave them in their “us vs. them” bubbles. He came to abolish the dividing wall of ethnic strife and make His church into one new man (Ephesians 2:15). Anyone who would resurrect dividing walls among God’s people and sow division in the name of Christianity, “have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?” (James 2:4; NASB).

As you gather with your church for your midweek service, delight in the fact that your union and communion with one another is in Christ who makes you one new man. Shun partiality, and joyfully celebrate your common love for God and love for the saints. Do everything in your power to delight in the unity that you share with people of every tongue, tribe, and nation by virtue of their having been made in God’s image and redeemed by the blood of Christ. Consider the unity you have in Christ, and be refreshed!

Repost: Interracial Marriage and the Ordinary Means of Grace

This post was originally published in October of 2014 in the wake of the death of Michael Brown and the subsequent riots in Ferguson. As I recall those days, they were very dark and trying times for our nation. The heart of every true Christian was aching over the deep ethnic divide that was being revealed in the kingdom of man in which we sojourn. Of recent years this divide, and those who would push for worldly definitions of it and worldly solutions to it, have begun to infiltrate our churches.

Many pastors, with some alarm, are just beginning to take notice of the prevalence of this issue. Others seem to think it just a passing fad. We assure you it is not just a fad. At some point very soon, every church in America will have to deal with this issue. Not only is it not going away, but it is picking up steam. Soon, every pastor in America will start to have members and visitors in their pews using terms like “racial reconciliation,” “white privilege,” and “systemic racism” in their articulation of the gospel. You will be made to care. That said, please consider the following thoughts.


This past week, I had the privilege of teaching the 9-12 year old class at my church. We are going through the Bible, piece by piece, and discussing each section. This week our discussion was on Genesis 6-11. Now, I understand that there are multiple orthodox views on who the sons of God were in Genesis 6. I exposed the kids to three, but only argued for the one I think to be best supported by the text: the godly line of Seth view.

When holding to this view, the question naturally arises, “What was the big deal with the sons of God marrying daughters of men?” A little context goes a long way in understanding how this is a problem. When Moses wrote the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), the people of Israel were on the plains of interracial-marriageMoab awaiting their conquest of the land of Canaan (Numbers 22:1). There, God commanded them through Moses not to intermarry with the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 7:3-4).

I recall one time at a training exercise in the Army being asked by a guy where the Bible forbids interracial marriage. He wanted to know so that he could discourage his daughter from marrying outside her race. In fact, the Bible nowhere forbids interracial marriage for the sake of keeping people of different skin colors from joining together in matrimony. What it did forbid in Deuteronomy 7:3-4 was interfaith marriage. The Israelites were forbidden from taking foreign wives because they would entice them to follow after false gods.

In my estimation, the best understanding of the sons of God intermarrying with the daughters of men in Genesis 6 is that they were being led away from God by these women. What is interesting is that, when I asked the kids if the Bible anywhere explicitly forbids interracial marriage, they unanimously agreed that it does not. When I asked them why God forbid people in the Bible from marrying foreigners, they agreed that it was because they would entice them to follow false gods.

I bring all this up not to brag on how smart our children are at my church. Rather, I wanted to highlight the fact that the ordinary means of grace are sufficient for helping our churches, and even our the children in our churches, deal with the major issues that the church will face in our culture. The church does not have to resort to conducting a complete reset of its worship service or starting up a multi-culturalist project in order to be the church.

These children came to a right understanding of this deeply important cultural issue by partaking of the ordinary means of grace. They have sat under the preached word week-in and week-out, they have sung psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs that promote biblical truth, and we as a church have regularly prayed over their souls for the better part of their lives. What the church needs is to commit itself to the ordinary means of grace and expect that this will be the medium through which God will perform His extraordinary, transformative work in the lives of believers both personally and corporately. What the church does not need is a multi-culturalist agenda pushing for extra-biblical traditions to be added to the means God has ordained for the dispensing of His grace.

Outgrowing the Church?

As mentioned in the previous blog(s), we are called and commanded to love the fellow members of our local church. You may now agree that God calls all Christians to join (i.e. to be committed to) a local church and that God calls you to love the family of God in your local church. However, I would like to raise the following questions: Do you really believe that you need the local members of your church? Or, do you feel as if you have “out-grown” your local church? These are not simple questions to answer, but they must be asked if we seriously want to love the members of our local church. The reality is that we all need the local church not just in an abstract way; we need the local church because we need each other.

Dealing With the Drama

Each one of us is a deeply flawed individual who lives in a fallen world and interacts with sinful individuals on a daily basis in our various vocations. Because of this, we have developed a plethora of sinful habits, along with emotional and spiritual baggage from our circumstances (before and after our conversion). When we join a local church, we are entering into a relationship with other deeply flawed individuals with a different set of sinful habits, and it is probable that some of them will probably push your pet peeves. As Ian Hamilton said recently, “Some individuals are quirky around the edges, and some individuals may be quirky at the center.” Although we are united to Christ, our sinfulness doesn’t just afflict us; it also afflicts fellow Christians. This is why many believers see parallels between marriage and church membership. The hardships we experience within both kinds of relationships are associated with our fallenness.

This is a reality that virtually all Christians encounter in every age (including the apostolic age), and yet we are called and commanded to love one another. Furthermore, the Apostle John tells us that this love is what should distinguish us from the unbelieving world (cf. John 13:35). Dear Christian, do you keep the members of your local church at arm’s length because you don’t want to deal with their issues and drama? Do you stay on the margins of church life because you hate the drama? While no one wants to deal with perpetual drama within the church, we should be honest with ourselves. In some way or fashion, we are all broken and dysfunctional people, and the truth is that we are blind to most of our dysfunctional issues! We are all a part of the drama that we hate within local churches. Furthermore, it is the height of folly to believe that you can see your full dysfunction clear enough without the assistance of your local church. Even the Apostle Paul states that he is not mature enough to “outgrow” the church. Consider his words in Romans:

First I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you – that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. Romans 1:8-12

It makes perfect sense that Paul would want to visit the church in Rome and strengthen them through his spiritual gifts. However, Paul clarifies by saying that what he genuinely wants is to be “mutually encouraged by each other’s faith”. Paul is longing to visit this church so that he could be encouraged by their faith. This demonstrates that the local church was never designed to have “super-Christians” who are always giving and “normal Christians” who are always receiving. The reason why is because there is no such thing as a “super-Christian”. Even the mightiest believer will wither and die apart from God’s grace, which is often experienced through the local church.

Spiritual Gifts

Another basic reason why you need the members of your local church is because the gifts of the local church are necessary for your edification. In other words, God has distributed His gifts within the church in such a way that the members may have the same need for one another (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:25). Oftentimes, when we think of spiritual gifts, we only think of the public or “flashy” gifts, such as preaching, teaching, evangelism, musical gifts, etc. However, based on scripture, many of the spiritual gifts are much more ordinary, such as service, exhortation, giving, mercy, administration/leadership, etc (cf. Romans 12:4-8). These are the non-controversial gifts that are given to the church, and they form the backbone of many local churches. These are the gifts that Christians no longer exercise or benefit from when they choose to neglect their local church. Consider the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians:

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 1 Corinthians 12:4-7

If you are united to Christ, you have received spiritual gifts for the purpose of serving to build up your local church (“the common good”). We have different gifts with different levels of ability for different objectives. However, the bottom line is that the local church needs the gifts that you bring to her, and you need the gifts of fellow members of your local church. Christians are not to be merely consumers of goods and services, but every member of a church is a distributor and laborer for the common good. Therefore, we need each other.

Loving the Local Church

As mentioned in the previous blog, the local church is the ordinary and primary means in which God sanctifies and grows believers, which means that church membership is non-negotiable for Christians. However, the trends in church membership and church attendance have created a new category of Christians in social science research who “love Jesus but not the Church”. We know that there is significant pressure from the unbelieving world to reject the institutional church. However, the sad reality is that the most popular polemics against the institutional church comes from other Christians. There have been numerous blogs in which professing Christians air their disgust for institutional Christianity. This mentality appears to be pervasive within our culture, but it’s an attitude that is contrary to the core teachings of the New Testament.

I don’t speak about this topic from an air of aloofness or indifference. About 10 years ago, I was once part of the crowd of Christians who loved Jesus but was burned by multiple local churches. As a Christian, I’ve been a member of churches in which individuals have been found guilty of sexual molestation of minors; individuals have been involved in adulterous relationships; individuals have split churches due to gossip, slander, and tertiary doctrinal matters (such as head coverings); elders have been found guilty of financial exploitation of its members; and members have harbored resentment towards other members for years. Observing the faults of various local churches drove me away from the institutional church. However, it was the testimony of older saints (who have walked through worse issues within the local church) who reproved me of this attitude. The central passage worthy of consideration is the following

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:20-21

Let those words sink in. Nothing can be plainer: it is impossible to love God without loving your brother. Applying this to the church, to say that “I love Jesus but not the Church” means that you do not love Jesus. This may be a harsh statement to some, but it’s the direct teaching of the New Testament. How can you claim to love Christ yet you are unwilling to love those for whom Christ has died? How can you claim unending love for Christ, yet you are unwilling to stick through the difficulties of your local church? The Apostle John makes even more penetrating statements regarding the necessity of loving your brothers:

By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another… We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in Him. 1 John 3:10-11, 14-15

Let this passage sink in. The Apostle John connects our love for fellow brothers with our individual salvation. In other words, one is deceiving himself if he believes that he can truly know God apart from loving his brothers. The objection that usually follows is that it is possible to love fellow Christians without joining or committing to a local church. However, John continues his exhortation

By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:16-18

This was the passage that cut me to the core as a young Christian. Practically, how is it possible to lay down your life for your brothers apart from local church? It’s easy to love your select group of Christian friends, but you don’t have the authority to pick and choose who are the members of your local church. If you aren’t committed to the fellow members of the body in the local church, can you honestly say that your love is “in deed and in truth”? There are many who are willing to point out the sins and flaws of members within their local church, but they are unwilling to aid in their sanctification. Is this truly the heart of someone who genuinely loves their brother?

There are many who will use the hypocrisy of the institutional church as a reason to reject her, but they rarely ever see their own hypocrisy. It is hypocritical to decry radical individualism within American Christianity while, at the same time, rejecting the community that God has formed in your local church. It’s hypocritical to say that the Church has become nothing more than a social club while, at the same time, rejecting the diversity of gifts, viewpoints, and personalities that God has formed in your local church. This is the mentality of one who is “dating the church” and then criticizes her to strangers after the breakup. As our Savior has said, you must take the log out of your own eye so that you can see clearly how to the speck out of your brother’s eye (cf. Matthew 7:5). In other words, you are not in position to judge the sins and blemishes of the institutional church until you are committed and willing to lay your life down for the members of your local church.

This is a call for perseverance and patience towards the local church. If you have walked away from the local church, I implore you not to forsake the local assembly. If you are a member of local church, I implore you not to keep your brothers and sisters at a distance. For those who are committed to your local church, I pray that you will excel still the more. I’ll end this blog with a quote from Thabiti Anyabwile:

…The proper response to the church, the church of worship, the people of God when they look upon the church isn’t critique and evaluation. It isn’t to spot all the limitations… The proper response of a heart oriented toward God that loves God and loves all that God does is, ‘Oh my God! Oh how staggering! Oh how beautiful … He’s my God and we are His people. Oh my God, look at the church!’

Why Church Membership

As mentioned in the previous blog, God visits and dwells with His people in a special way within your local church. However, our anti-institutional age has convinced us that we can piece together all of what we need from the local church through 21st century technological advances. Consider the number of ways in which technology can replace the elements of worship at any local church

  • If you want to sing as a form of worship to God, then you can listen to your favorite Christian artists on your phone. If you like traditional hymns and sacred music, you can listen to RefNet or Lutheran Public Radio or any number of other stations.

  • If you want to hear preaching, then you can click on SermonAudio.com, SermonIndex.net, or listen to any number of your favorite preachers on their ministry page.

  • If you want to have fellowship, you can join a local community group or join an online forum of likeminded individuals

  • If you want to hear pastoral prayer, you can read The Valley of Vision or read excerpts from The Book of Common Prayer

  • If you want to receive the sacraments, you can receive “drive-through communion” at certain locations.

If you are tech savvy enough, then you can, in essence, piece together your own liturgy. Moreover, these technological advantages give the impression that you can enjoy the benefits of church while ignoring its inevitable drama. While there are providential hindrances that may require some Christians to use these alternative resources outside the church temporarily, the reality is that much of this arise from a more sinister motive. In many cases, the “church-a-la-carte” mentality comes from a heart that rejects authority. Mark Dever has helpful words to address this mentality

It would seem that rejecting authority, as so many in our day do, is shortsighted and self-destructive. A world without authority is a world were desires have no restraints, cars have no controls, intersections have no traffic lights, games have no rules, lovers have no covenants, organizations have no purpose, homes have no parents, and people have no God. Such a world might last for a little while, but how quickly it would become pointless, then cruel, and finally tragic.

Regardless of how our culture views authority, the difference between what people call “community” and what the Scriptures calls the “church” comes down to the question of authority. In an attempt to escape this reality, many have simply walked away from the institutional local church. However, the New Testament clearly established that the governing authority of Christians belongs to the local church (cf. Matthew 16:13-20; 18:15-20; Hebrews 13:7,17; 1 Peter 5:1-5).

The local church is not just a fellowship of friends; in the local church, we are committed to another in a covenant/vow of membership. This is why participating in the life of your local church is mandatory. We are held accountable to each other through the vows that we take at membership and through the oversight of our elders. This is why gathering together with Christian friends does not provide the same level of genuine accountability as a true church. As a governing institution, the local church preaches the gospel, administers the sacraments, and exercises oversight and discipline to all of its members.

However, the cultural milieu in which we live provides Christians with a multitude of excuses for their lack of commitment to the local church. Some stay away from the local church because they are afraid of getting hurt (or being hurt again). While we must never minimize the pain that many have felt within local churches, a good dose of honesty is needed. Pain is never an excuse for disobedience to God’s Word. The local church was created for our sanctification and God’s glory, not for your convenience. Furthermore, if you are united to Christ, then He has given you spiritual gifts that are designed for the church (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:7; 1 Peter 4:10). Therefore, staying away from the local church means that you are burying the gifts that God has given you in the ground rather than using it for the sake of the local church (cf. Matthew 25:14-30).

Some stay away from the local church because they believe that most pastors are crooked. This is perhaps the most pervasive lie that our culture constantly promotes and it is the lie that most people believe about the church. First, we are told explicitly in Scripture that false teachers will arise (cf. Matthew 7:15-20; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; 2 Peter 2:1-3) and therefore, we are told to be discerning. More importantly, the reality is that most pastors (within our country and around the world) labor with diligence and godly integrity in relative obscurity with congregations of less than 100 people. These pastors will never receive media spotlight because they are performing the basic task of the ministry. These are men who do not come with flattering speech, nor with a pretext for greed, nor by way of deceit, but these are men who have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:3-7). Dear Christian, have you believed Satan’s lie that there are only a few good pastors doing their job?

The local church is not just a group of believers at a park; it preaches the gospel and possesses the keys of the kingdom for binding and loosing through the ordinances (cf. Matthew 16:17-19). This means that it is the task of the local church who declares who does and does not belong to kingdom. This statement grinds against our modern sensibilities, but a question must be raised: if you refuse to be part of a local church, how do you know that you’re saved? If you have walked away from the local church, then who’s inspecting the fruit of your life? Gathering a few friends at the park and “doing life together” is no substitute for the objective evidence which is biblical church membership.

The Beauty of the Local Church

When considering the role of the church in our lives, it’s always important to consider the age in which we live. As discussed in the previous blog, I believe that it is self-evident that we live in a deeply anti-authoritarian age. Outside the church, this is often observed within national politics where disrespect and irreverence towards government officials has become commonplace. Within the church, this anti-authoritarianism rears its head in our skepticism for the church. In other words, the anti-authoritarian culture outside of the church has produced an anti-institutional and anti-polity culture within the church.

There are a large number of trends which have conspired together to produce this culture. Mark Dever provides a useful list

  • Since the dawn of the seventeenth-century Enlightenment, the Western mind has been trained to doubt all external authorities.

  • Since the middle of the nineteenth century, scholars in theology departments of elite European universities have assumed that the churches of the New Testament were in a state of flux, their polities were inconsistent, and they offer no normative model for today. And when biblical norms vanish, pragmatism steps into the void.

  • Church leaders in the twentieth century, therefore, found themselves enticed and eventually intoxicated by the methods of the booming American marketplace.

  • Beginning in the 1950s, the so-called neoevangelicals separated themselves from their separatist and fundamentalist parents by establishing their own seminaries, magazines, evangelism organizations, publishing houses, and other parachurch institutions.

We can also add other modern influences such as the Internet, social media, and MP3 sermons-on-demand, but the net result is that we have inherited a significant amount of historical baggage that has trained us to view the institutional church with a matter of indifference. It’s tempting to start this series by blaming crooked prosperity preachers, CEO-style megapreachers, and fundamentalism for the trends that we see, but that would be nothing more than blame shifting. It’s best to look at ourselves in the mirror first.

Lord’s Day Worship

The Lord called me to Himself about 16 years ago in an old-fashioned tent revival when I was in high-school. I was born and raised in a Pentecostal background in which my individual religious experience (which was called the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”) was prized above all others so it should not be surprising that this was the essential lens in which I viewed Christianity during my younger days. All of my spiritual disciplines were geared towards obtaining this experience, including corporate worship on the Lord’s Day. In those days, I didn’t consider myself as a member of the covenant community that gathered together to worship our Triune God; rather, I saw Lord’s Day worship as the best time to have my personal experience with Jesus.

Over the course of my young life, I’ve realized that although very few individuals would assent to the core tents of Pentecostalism, I’ve learned that many Christians have adopted this basic idea of seeking their “personal Jesus”. This has led to two polarizing and unbiblical responses to Lord’s Day worship: the first is to neglect public worship since you can “meet Jesus” at home and the second is to use public worship to “get what you need for Jesus”. The writer to the Hebrews give us a beautiful picture of what goes on in public worship.

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.

Dear Christian, is this how you view the church? The church is called Mount Zion because it is beloved of God, chosen by Him, and is the place of His habitation. It is within the church that His word and ordinances are administered. It is within the church where He communes with His covenant people – not in a “personal Jesus” manner. Do you see the church as “the perfection of beauty and the joy of the whole earth”? The church is the city of the living God, which is built on Christ. As John Gill describes, the church is

… pleasantly situated by the river of God’s love, and by the still waters of Gospel ordinances; it is governed by wholesome laws, of Christ’s enacting, and is under proper officers, of his appointing; and is well guarded by watchmen, which he has set upon the walls of it; and it is endowed with many privileges, as access to God, freedom from condemnation, adoption, and a right to the heavenly inheritance.

The church is His building because He dwells, protects, and defends her. Hence, we are not just speaking about the church as an organism, but we are speaking of her as an institution.

Now, it’s important to understand what the writer to the Hebrews is specifically referring to. These words can be applied to the universal church, but his context is the local church. Yes… it is your local church that is place of His habitation; it is your local church in which we partake of ordinances and enjoy communion with Him. I must emphasize this because we have romanticized the universal church, while neglecting the local church. We have warm feelings in our heart concerning the church triumphant as seen throughout the book of Revelation, but that same raptured joy is not expressed towards our own local church today. Do you realize that your local church is the dwelling place of the Prince of Peace and is being encamped about by “myriads of angels”? When you gather with your local church, you are gathering also with “the spirits of the righteous” made perfect and at the table, you are communing with the risen Lord Jesus.

This is what actually occurs in the gathered worship of the local church, but our culturally-trained anti-institutional skepticism blinds us from seeing the glory of God’s local church. Until we love the local church and see her as she truly is, we will continue to drift away from her.

How Much Do You Need the Church?


To the reader of this blog, may I ask you some questions:

  • Do you love the church?
  • Do you believe that the church is still necessary or has the church become merely a convenience in your life?
  • Do you believe that church attendance is a necessary component of your sanctification?
  • Do you prize the local church or do you treat her like other commodities that you shop for?
  • Do you love your leaders or do you criticize them because they aren’t your favorite preachers?
  • Do you believe that you can gain more spiritual nourishment at home rather than at the local church?
  • Do you see the church as the bride of Christ purchased by His blood or is the church here merely to fit your agenda?
  • Does taking holiday vacations mean that you take vacations from the church?
  • Do you love the members of your local church or are they a burden to you?
  • Is corporate worship the high point of your week or do you treat it as part of your weekly to-do list?
  • Do you believe that sporadic church attendance harms your growth as a Christian?
  • Do you believe that you need pastors and elders who keep watch over your soul?
  • Have you blamed the church for the problems within our modern society?
  • Are you a “church shopper” because you are easily offended by the members of your local church?
  • Have you stopped praying for your local church and your elders?
  • Do you need a vacation from your local church in order to find God?
  • Do you love corporate worship on the Lord’s Day or is the gathered worship merely a “pick-me-up” for the week?
  • Have you stopped financially giving to the church because pastors are “crooked”?
  • Do you believe that you will eventually out-grow the need for the local church?
  • Do you merely endure the members of your local church so that you can get what you need from God on the Lord’s Day?
  • What is it about the church that you love?
  • Are you committed to the local church and its mission or are you seeking for a better deal?
  • Have you dismissed these questions because you believe that you aren’t the problem?

I’ve posed these questions not to bring shame, but to raise important heart issues. There have been wonderful books written that have expounded on the doctrine of the church and its importance in the life of the Christian. However, in spite of these works, many professing Christians continue to drift away from the local church and others reject the local church itself as a valid institution. George Barna’s research testifies to these contemporary attitudes towards the organized church. He writes that evangelicals

… are less interested in attending church than in being the church … [and] we found that there is a significant distinction in the minds of many people between the local church – with a small ‘c’ – and the universal Church – with a capital ‘C’. [They] tend to be more focused on being the Church … whether they participate in a [local] church or not.

This raises the question on whether one can actually love the universal church if they have ignored the local church. Barna goes on to write:

A common misconception … is that they are disengaging from God when they leave a local church. We found that while some people leave the local church and fall away from God altogether, there is a much larger segment of Americans who are currently leaving churches precisely because they want more of God in their life but cannot get what they need from a local church. They have decided to get serious about their faith by piecing together a more robust faith experience. Instead of going to church, they have chosen to be the Church, in a way that harkens back to the Church detailed in the Book of Acts.

Barna’s opinion seems to fit the ethos of our day because we live in a deeply anti-institutional and anti-authoritarian world that honestly believes that we can “piece together a more robust faith experience” outside the church. The purpose of this blog series is to challenge our understanding and commitment to the local church. This series will not be a scholarly exposition of the doctrine of the Church (since there are many good works on this topic), but it will be a series in which we search out our motives and uncover our hidden presuppositions regarding our view of the local church. If we aren’t careful and discerning regarding the influences within the age we live in, then even confessional Christians will gradually drift away from the local church.

Happy Holy Days?

I once heard a Reformed Baptist say that there are roughly 52 holidays (holy days) on the Reformed church calendar, and they all have the same name: the Lord’s Day. This assertion struck my funny bone at the time, but it has progressively become a reality for me over the years. As one grows in one’s delight in the Sabbath, all other days seem to pale in comparison.

It is written on the heart of man to set aside a day when he wishes to worship or esteem something or someone. God has written it on our hearts, just as He wrote all of the other Ten Commandments on our hearts. Innately, man knows it is proper to set aside time for the Object of his worship. In the book of Exodus, we are told:

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy,” (Exod. 20:8-11; NASB).

In the Hebrew Scriptures, many Ceremonial Laws were added to the Moral Law, including many feast days and special sabbaths (some of which did not even occur on the seventh day). These were meant to be days of rest, not resting in idleness or in some mystic form of meditation, but resting in the Lord. Other cultures and religions besides have conjured up their own holy days to be observed in accordance with their own religious calendars.

In the Greek Scriptures, we learn that the whole of the ceremonial law pointed to, and was fulfilled in, Christ. As such, there is only one day still binding on Christ’s subjects for His worship: the Sabbath. Some Christians have argued that the Sabbath is no longer binding, but that Christ is our Sabbath rest. Reformed Baptists respond that the Lord was always the focus of the Sabbath, so their argument has no foundation.

Others throughout church history have added to the church calendar holy days that were never commanded by God for His worship. These days include Christmas, Resurrection Day, All Saints Day and All Hallows Eve, Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, etc. These all have their roots in biblical truth (some more, some less), but none of them were commanded by God in Scripture.

“But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures” (The Baptist Confession, 22.1).

I am not saying that Christians are not free to make a commendable use of these days in good conscience. What I am saying is that they are not holy days (holidays) in the biblical sense. Only one day fits that bill. Thus, when these days take precedence over the Lord’s Day, whether in our observance of them or in our preparation for them, we might stop ask the Lord if we have chosen to prioritize our time contrary to how God has ordained. To put it more simply, the Lord’s Day should be more precious to us than any other “holiday” man may observe. I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Side note: I was sick in bed and couldn’t attend church this past Lord’s Day, but I probably don’t need to tell you where I stand on churches closing their doors on the Lord’s Day merely so that God’s people can spend time with family on Christmas morning.

Will the Monologue NOW Become a Dialogue?


The past two years have been very exhausting on the ethnic front. As I’m sure most of you are aware, Gabriel Williams and I have been blogging on the subject of Public Theology. It has been a long and challenging series in part because there is much we would like to address day-to-day, but we have opted instead to stick to laying a theological, historical, and biblical foundation before jumping into the weeds. Some on our side of the argument might say that this decision has been made out of cowardice. For my part, I have been speaking out on this issue for several years, and Gabe has read the source material extensively that is often cited over at RAAN. Some on the other side of the argument might say that we should just “shut up and listen.” In fact, we’ve pretty much been told as much. At this point, it is also important to note that the issue of ethnic strife is not the only issue we seek to tackle in the Public Theology series.

Some of our readers may just be hearing of a popular evangelical website called RAANetwork.com (the Reformed African-American Network). Why are they just popping up on the radar of some? Recently, in response to the election of President-elect Trump, Jemar Tisby and Beau York recorded a podcast in which Tisby admitted that the following Lord’s Day he did not “feel safe” worshiping with “white people,” because of statistics that have been floated showing a large number of white professing-evangelical voters cast their votes for Trump (for the record, neither Gabe nor I voted for Trump).

Tisby’s admission should not be taken in isolation, though. It is indicative of the arguments made over at RAAN on a regular basis. His requirement for a “safe” space is indicative of the Marxist agenda RAAN has been seeking to smuggle into the church for years. His labeling of Christian brothers as “white people” is indicative of RAAN’s not-so-subtle push to de-centralize Christ and erect ethno-centric dividing walls among God’s people. It is safe to say, after a few years of following them, that the majority position over at RAAN is one of ethnic partiality and ethno-centrism, not Christ-centrism.

In response to Tisby’s comments, Pastor Saiko Woods offered the following comments:

To his credit, Pastor Woods has been very vocal against RAAN’s teachings for some time. Dr. James White also chimed in on this 1 1/2 hour long episode of the Dividing Line.

We are glad that others are joining the conversation, even if RAAN does not seem to want to have a dialogue on this issue (just a monologue). We are also hopeful that others will be willing to take note of some of the other, more sinister teachings going on over at RAAN. As RAAN’s teachings reverberate throughout the church, we are convinced that they will wreak havoc on local churches everywhere. Please take some time to go and expose yourself to some of their teachings and then familiarize yourself with our series on Public Theology. We pray that the monologue will soon become a dialogue.

Why I Lovingly Push Reformed Theology

Periodically, an article is published to which I am compelled to respond. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to respond with nastiness or even direct disagreement. A response is not a reaction. The following article is an attempt at a friendly response to an article published today over at RAANetwork. The goal here is not to discredit the article or punch holes in its reasoning. My goal isn’t even to correct anything I believe to be improperly stated. Rather, my goal here will be to offer an alternative viewpoint, or perhaps to approach the subject from a bit of a different angle.

Defining Our Terms

Many well-intentioned articles have been written to persuade Reformed Christians to go easy—fly under the radar—in the discussion over Calvinism and non- (or anti-) Calvinism. Let us take a moment before diving into this discussion ourselves to discuss some important definitions. It’s important that we all understand from the outset that, when we say someone is Reformed or Calvinistic, we don’t all mean the same thing. Some equate Reformed Theology with Calvinism. Others recognize that Calvinism has come to be defined in Evangelicalism as a much different thing from Reformed Theology. For the purposes of this article, I will be using the two terms to describe two different, but related, concepts.

First, when I say Calvinism, I will mean the minimalistic adherence to the five points of Calvinism as outlined in the Canons of Dort. Second, when I say Reformed, I will mean a much more comprehensive approach to the Christian life that certainly affirms the five points of Calvinism, but also holds to historic Reformed expressions and formulations of both belief and practice as outlined in the historic Reformed confessions of faith. By this definition, many among the Dutch Reformed, Presbyterians, Anglicans, and even Baptists fit comfortably under the heading Reformed.

(Note: I believe the article mentioned above does a decent job of using the historical definitions of these terms.)

It Is Biblical

One area where you might say I agree that we should not be in the business of pushing Reformed Theology is in regard to pushing “mere Calvinism.” If all that a man ever seems to talk about is the five points of Calvinism to the expense of the other godly wisdom we’ve inherited from the early Reformers, Puritans, and Particular Baptists, that man will inevitably exhibit a certain imbalance in his life and doctrine. Reformed Theology is holistic, touching every part of the Christian life.

Q.6: What things are chiefly contained in the Holy Scriptures?

A. The Holy Scriptures chiefly contain what man ought to believe concerning God, and what duty God requireth of man (Collins, The Baptist Catechism of 1693).

Reformed Theology is holistic because it is biblical, and the Bible is holistic. This is where Calvinistic Christians have often gone wrong in recent decades. We have often focused on the academic aspect of the Christian belief system without demonstrating the connectedness of Christian thought with Christian practice. We have failed to maintain an element of the Christian life that was essential for the Reformers, Puritans, and Particular Baptists: that knowledge not coupled with understanding and wisdom (right knowledge that does not lead to right action) is not biblical knowledge.

The problem with Reformed Theology is a PR problem more than anything else. The problem isn’t that Reformed Theology isn’t biblical. The problem is that the acquiescence and application of Reformed Theology on the part of many Reformed Christians has not been biblical. Many of us have accepted Reformed Theology because it is true; it lines up with Scripture (knowledge). That’s a good thing. However, how many Reformed Christians apply themselves to imbibing these teachings as they are found in Scripture (understanding) and actually walking them out in their everyday lives (wisdom)?

It’s not enough merely to affirm Reformed Theology as true and biblical. When our Christian and non-Christian friends hear us discussing Reformed Theology, if they only hear platitudes and well-structured arguments, but they see lives unaffected by these truths, they rightly recognize that something is “off.” What’s “off” is the fact that we have biblical knowledge, but we have not coupled that knowledge with biblical wisdom and understanding (Eph. 1:17-18).

One Church United in Truth

When properly acquired and applied, Reformed Theology is more powerful than any other Scriptural, theological formulation in uniting Christians with one another. For many of our readers, this assertion doubtless seems odd. After all, we’ve been told, it’s doctrine that divides, and especially that dreaded Reformed doctrine (queue suspenseful music).


On the contrary, the Bible teaches that proper doctrine unites the church. When Christ ascended, Paul wrote to the Ephesian church, He bestowed gifts upon the church. He not only led captivity captive (freeing us from our slavery to sin, the traditions of men, the world, the flesh, and the devil), but He also gave godly men to the church to unite us in proper Christian doctrine. The result of this unity would be that we would no longer be as babes in the faith carried about by every current of doctrine, but we would be built up like a man of full stature able to stand with feet firmly planted on the riverbed of the world, immovable and complete with the strength that every part supplies, and with Christ as our Head (Eph. 4:7-16).

Now for a sober thought. To undervalue unity in truth (and that’s what Reformed Theology is: truth) is to weaken and divide the church where God has ordained that ought to find our true unity. Is the church divided? We sure are. Is it proper that we should point to true doctrine as the source of that disunity? May it never be! Rather we should pray, as Paul and Timothy did for the church at Colossae, that God’s children would grow in knowledge, wisdom, and understanding (Colossians 1:9).

Real Sources of Disunity

What then is the source of our disunity? There are several sources to which we can and should point. First among them are divisive brothers. The Bible is riddled with warnings against divisive brothers. They are called an abomination to God in Proverbs (6:16-19). Paul wrote to Titus: “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned” (Tit. 3:10-11; NASB). The problem with these men is not the doctrine being taught from the pulpit, but a divisive spirit that has gone unchecked within them.

Another source of disunity in the church is an unteachable spirit. This isn’t solely the fault of individual congregants. All too often, churches leave their doctrinal positions undefined. As people join their ranks, they come in with the assumption that the church is fluid where they are fixed. They are allowed from the onset to believe that they, as an untrained, non-ordained member of the church will be able to sway the church this way or that on their pet doctrine. Rather than being shaped by the word preached, they desire to shape the word preached through their human influence. They prefer to accumulate for themselves teachers that tell them what they want to hear, turning their ears away from the truth (2Tim. 4:3-4).

Once a man allows this presumption to fester in his heart, a hostile environment is inevitable. The moment the pastor authoritatively opposes his pet doctrine, a wound is opened within his soul and the infection of bitterness begins to set in. In this way, the unteachable spirit is not unlike the discontented spirit. Both can lead to disunity if unchecked, and both will use Reformed Theology as an occasion to sow division within the body. We would be wise to keep in mind, however, that Reformed Theology is not the cause but the occasion of this division.

A third source of disunity is immaturity in the faith. Reformed Christians have affectionately coined the term cage-stage Calvinist to describe these immature believers, but it’s important to recognize that this phenomenon is not unique to Reformed Theology. Truth in the hands of an immature man is always a dangerous weapon. Wise parents don’t hand scalpels to their toddlers and leave them unsupervised. However, in the hands of a skilled surgeon, a scalpel is a necessary tool. The same is true for sound biblical knowledge, such as Reformed Theology.

Lusts (or passions) can also be a real source of disunity within the body. James points out that the cause of all quarrels is unchecked passion (Jas. 4:1-3). We want, but we do not have, so we steal, murder, slander, and destroy. We bite and devour one another, when we should be building one another up in the faith.

These are all sources of disunity. They all point to man’s universal, sinful condition. Note, however, that nowhere in Scripture does the Bible point to truth properly acquired and applied as a source of unity. In fact, it is the exact opposite.

Reformed Theology Is High Theology

So is it wrong or unwise to contend for Reformed Theology with our brothers and sisters in the faith? It depends. It depends on your heart and on the heart of your listener. If your heart, or the heart of your listener, is to win an argument rather than to demonstrate and share the rich spiritual benefit that is to be found in an affirmation of biblical truth, then your heart is not in the right place to be discussing Reformed Theology. There is a time and a place for swordplay: among parties who agree. The problem often comes when we take that playfulness and try to employ it with people who diametrically oppose our understanding of Scripture. We must approach these conversations with much more prayerfulness and seriousness, because much more is at stake.

What is it that’s at stake? What is it that Reformed Theology can grant our non-Reformed brothers and sisters that they don’t already have? In a word: consistency. We don’t deny that Arminians, and all other forms of non-Calvinists, can and do have a high view of God. The fact is, however, that Reformed Theology offers the highest view of God there is.

Our non-Calvinistic brothers and sisters will not care to hear from us that we believe their high view of God to be inconsistent with their approach to biblical interpretation. However, that is precisely what we believe as Reformed Christians. Yet it should be noted that they have the same critique of our theology. Why not just be honest about it? Much as it would be unloving for me to have a prolonged relationship with a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon without ever sharing the gospel with them, it is (to a drastically less significant degree) likewise unloving for us as Reformed Christians to think we have the richest, most deeply rewarding view of God and then to withhold it from our brothers and sisters in the faith. Why would we deny them this rich heritage that we have found so rewarding to our faith and practice?

Might it be because we have not truly found it rewarding? Might it be that we have not thought out how truly holistic Reformed Theology is and applied its teaching to every aspect of our life and our doctrine? See, our zeal for truth tells those who disagree with us how truly committed we are to that truth. If we have no zeal for truth we are telling others, whether we intend to or not, that we find it neither true nor beneficial. This has not been our experience, though. We affirm Reformed Theology not simply because we have been logically convinced; we affirm it also because we have been experientially convinced. That is, unless we haven’t. Our actions will tell.

The Necessary Contrast between Christianity and Rome

Not only do our non-Reformed brothers and sisters miss out on the benefit of a high theology, but often they also fail to see the very necessary contrast between Christianity and Rome. There are many pastors and theologians in the church today who, as a result of their abandonment of Reformation theology, have completely abandoned the Reformation! Everywhere you look, there are pastors, seminary professors, theologians, and biblical scholars who claim to represent a Protestant tradition or denomination while simultaneously holding out a hand of fellowship to Rome. These men and women speak of three orthodox groups under the umbrella of Christianity: Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism.

As Reformed Christians, we recognize only one of three groups just listed as truly Christian according to the Bible. I have had professors that would view this statement as divisive. Well, with all due respect to my professors, the Council of Trent was just as much to blame for this division as any Reformer, Puritan, Baptist, or Reformed confession or catechism. When the papacy holds a council that takes an essential doctrine such as Justification by Faith Alone and calls any who teach it accursed, this act alone is enough to place Rome squarely outside the pale of biblical orthodoxy.

Yet we have “Protestant” Christians claiming that those who have called us anathema (and have not retracted it) are under our same umbrella. We shouldn’t merely push Reformed Theology because of its high view of God. Reformed Theology is also a necessary guard from adopting heterodox views of our relationship to Rome and the Eastern Orthodox church.


Again, why do I push Reformed Theology? I push Reformed Theology because it’s biblical. I push Reformed Theology because biblical truth, when rightly acquired and applied, unites. I push Reformed Theology because it offers the most consistent interpretation of the Bible with a truly high view of God. I push Reformed Theology because it keeps us from erroneous, though perhaps well-intentioned, attempts at unity with groups with whom the Bible requires we disagree. For all of these reasons, it would be both unloving and a disregard for the unity of the church for Reformed Christians not to push Reformed Theology.

Edit – After getting some feedback from the author of the article that inspired this one, I wanted to offer the following statement as a kind of second conclusion:

It seems to me that the heart of the article’s author is in the right place, wanting to bridge gaps between disparate Christians and break down barriers. I would prefer that Reformed Christians with such a heart boldly use the terminology we believe to be the most biblical, but do so in such a way that we utterly destroy the stereotypes people have erected of us in their minds. That is to say that we should employ Reformed terminology (early in our conversations) in such a way that our non-Reformed friends are completely disarmed by the love and tenderness behind it.