–Acts 14:21a (NASB)
Last Sunday, Pastor Randy preached on Acts 14:21-28 in a sermon he called, “What Makes a Good Missionary (Part 3)?” In many ways, the title could be expressed as “What Makes a Good Christian” since it is Pastor’s opinion that all believers are responsible for preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ, whether we’re formally called missionaries or not. Pastor spent most of his adult life as a missionary and his parents were missionaries, so it’s completely understandable why his perspective would be as it is.
When he was teaching about what a disciple is, he used several different phrases to describe them/us. I want to focus on one of those phrases:
A good Christian is a person who places himself/herself under a local church authority as a member.
Yeah, I even wrote “whoa” in my notes during the sermon. A member?
Pastor listed a number or reasons for this including giving the person a sense of accountability, opportunities for service, both to the other members of the church and to the larger world, and displaying commitment to the body of believers.
I know what you’re thinking? Aren’t we all as believers, part of the body of Christ anyway, what Pastor called “the universal church?”
Yes, but he used Paul’s model of “planting churches” (I can’t imagine Paul actually used that term) to emphasize how we can’t really function effectively in the body unless we join with a local church and display a commitment to that body as one of the operational parts. The sense of community would also contribute to the individual growing in “Christ-likeness” and, as I said before, providing a platform to allow the individual to minister to God’s people.
I’ve been campaigning to completely redesign the church’s website, which currently looks like a throwback to the ancient web of the 1990s. I’ve gotten some traction, but there’s a bottleneck in the process and until that bottleneck is cleared (which I’m told will be soon), I can’t actively begin my redesign project. Most of the information on the current site is obsolete, however, I did manage to pull this from the “Beliefs” page:
Because the Bible is the complete, true and sufficient Word of God, holding absolute authority for the church and the individual, we believe and teach the following:
- Jesus Christ as the one and only begotten Son of God, is fully Jehovah God (the second person of the trinity) (John 1:1-14). In Mary’s womb, He joined to His divine nature, a human nature and was virgin born, thus becoming ‘God-man’ (Philippians 2:5-7 / Hebrews 10:5-10).
- Jesus was tempted by Satan but remained sinless because He was and is God, and it is impossible for God to sin (Deuteronomy 32:3-4). Still, the temptations were both valid and real to the God-man. Oh, how he can sympathize with us (Hebrews 4:15-16).
- Christ was literally crucified on the cross, His blood becoming the sufficient cleansing for our sins. He died and was buried. Then on the third day, He physically arose in victory over sin and death (1st Corinthians 1-5). He who truly believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God is rescued from eternity in hell and given eternal life (Salvation – John 20:31).
- The next prophetic event will be the taking up into heaven of all believers, ‘The Rapture,’ (1st Thessalonians 4:15-17). Then following the tribulation, Christ will return to the earth with us, His glorified saints, to establish His literal rule over all the earth for 1,000 years (The Millennial Kingdom), and we will rule with Him (Jude 14-15). This is our destiny as Sons of God (Romans 8).
- Saving faith is by grace alone and not by works of merit that we can do (Ephesians 2:8-9).
I object to the use of “Jehovah” as if that were the actual pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton, and I’m not crazy about the “rapture” doctrine. Becoming an actual church member means taking some classes and then signing on the dotted line that you buy all of their doctrine, dogma, and theology hook, line, and sinker.
I’ve had enough conversations with my Pastor to realize our points of disagreement and, if being a member of my church or some other local church is a requirement for being a “good Christian,” then I have a problem.
Sunday afternoon, I had coffee with my good friend Tom. Tom’s been a Christian for over forty years and he and I have both been through the Hebrew Roots “wringer” as well. We have a good many attitudes in common, but he agrees with my Pastor that I will never be truly effective in my community until I formally become a member. Tom’s been a member of his church for about three years now. I asked him what he does about the bits and pieces of church doctrine with which he disagrees. He’s discussed it with his Pastor and his Pastor’s response is, “We’ll work on that.”
I’d interpret that statement to mean that Tom’s Pastor will try to convince Tom of the correctness of whatever Tom currently has issues with. I guess that situation is a work in progress.
But what about me? Frankly, I don’t think any church has their understanding 100% correct. How am I supposed to pretend that the church I attend does? I’m already anticipating a major disagreement next week in Sunday school class over the “symbolic” meaning of the moadim.
By the way, I took a closer look at the study notes for next week’s class and my blood ran cold. I’m actually kind of nervous about this. The notes mainly describe how the primary purpose of all of the Festivals just point to the reality of Jesus Christ. In other words, they had no value of their own to draw the Israelites closer to God (never mind that the word “sacrifice” in Hebrew is “korban” which gives the meaning of “drawing closer to” God). Dispensationalism isn’t supposed to be inherently supersessionistic but this part of it is getting close.
Since Pastor is anachronistically applying the “missionary journeys” of Paul to modern Christian missionary work anyway, let’s apply that process to “church membership.” When Paul “planted churches,” and appointed leaders, how did Gentiles join the community? Besides professing faith in Messiah, was there some additional process of agreeing to the specific conditions and rules of that community in order to join? Maybe, but remember, there weren’t “church denominations” in those days. Yes, there were different streams of Judaism, and “the Way” was the Jewish stream that contained the Jewish and Gentile disciples of Messiah. However, within the Way, were there different and competing variations? Did you have to choose one and forsake all others or could you just be a “generic” Jewish or Gentile disciple of the Jewish Messiah?
Actually, it looks like there were some divisions:
Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.
–1 Corinthians 1:10-17 (NASB)
I know, I know. I can’t anachronistically apply conditions as they existed in Paul’s day to the modern “church” because after all, the “church” isn’t a unified entity, at least at the level of human organizational meaning. Times have changed significantly in the past twenty centuries or so, and being a “good Christian” now means different things to different streams of Christianity.
I currently attend a small, Baptist church in Southwestern Idaho. They have definite standards and a formal process of baptism and education leading to entry into membership. I suppose I could attend and worship there forever as unaffiliated, but then, I wouldn’t meet the qualifications of a “good Christian.”
It’s not that I object to being committed to a community, having affiliation, accountability, and opportunity for service, but it’s the albatross being hung around my neck of all the specific doctrine and dogma to which I object (and if taking Calvinism on board is a requirement, then it’s an absolute “showstopper”). I can’t lie about believing stuff when I don’t believe it, so how can I ever join any church anywhere? How can I, as Pastor puts it, be a “good Christian?”
Oh, and apparently Pastor isn’t alone in his opinion about joining a church. Another collision between the principals outlined in Boaz Michael’s book Tent of David and the reality of “going to church.”