Friday, June 13, 2008

Making Doctrine

Recently, I did a little browsing at the blog of the Pastor Tim Kade, of Epic Church (famous for their sex series during Lent). He said something on a post that struck me...

As a leader, you can hold me accountable to not settle for informing people, but to genuinely inspire people toward Christ’s vision.

It struck me because one of the things that I am sure of is that there is so much disagreement about what we think Christ's vision is between those that we now call "Ablaze types" and confessionals.

So I asked what he meant by Christ's vision. He responded:

To me the vision of the church is straight out of Matthew 28:19-20 "Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Did you notice that he added a word? I've checked four different translations, and I have not seen the word "new" in reference to the baptized. In a post that was published the next day, he says "The church doesn’t exist for the programs it produces; it doesn’t even exist for the people sitting in the seats. The church exists for people in the community who have yet to meet Jesus, Our primary mission is Matthew 28:18-20."

There is a problem when a church bases its doctrine (or practice) on one verse. Actually, Epic Church's isn't the worst error that can happen when doing this. I don't know enough about what is literally taught from their pulpit or stage to know that the Christ that is proclaimed there is the Jesus of the Nicene Creed. I expect that it is, and I hope that it is. Plenty of cults base some of their key doctrine on one verse. The Mormons base their whole view of the afterlife on "Have I not called ye gods?" Various heresies have occurred because one verse was picked over another, and the rest were ignored.

Lutherans have a rule for interpreting what a verse means. "Scripture interprets scripture." When a verse is unclear, we look to the rest of Scripture to clarify it. We do not make doctrine based on one verse. That is not the rule of The Church, even from ancient times.

As great as the Great Commission is, it is not the only thing that the Bible says about the role of The Church, or of her pastors. There is a lot there. Jesus asked Peter to feed his sheep. Being a shepherd is not something you do just for new sheep. In fact while young lambs are in danger from maybe one wolf, older lambs are in danger from lions and packs of wolves. They still need their shepherd. They still need to be fed and kept safe. I'm wondering exactly how long it takes to teach new disciples ALL that Jesus has commanded us. I would think that is a job that is never done until we meet our Savior in heaven.

Not only that, when you read the books that describe the life of The Church, you find that it really IS about the people in the pews. Acts describes how the Holy Spirit not only worked through the Apostles who planted churches, but continued to work in the congregations that were formed. It tells us of Priscilla and Aquila, Lydia, Dorcas, Cornelius, Stephen, Phillip, and so many others who are examples to us. Others who are not like Ananias and Sapphira (who sinned, not in withholding some of the money from the sales, they were entitled to give whatever they saw fit, but because they withheld but still sought to make everyone believe that they were generous enough to give everything, and were willing to live that lie), Mark who abandoned Paul and Barnabas, but clearly later had repented and proven faithful. It tells us of the amazing work the Apostles did, but also how God worked through so many others and their loyalty to God's Word and each other.

"They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer....Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, prainsing God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved." Acts 2:42, 46-47.

When the seven deacons were chosen to help administer charity to the widows IN THE CHURCH, the Disciples chose godly men, and the congregation approved them (men who still shared God's Word with those who have not heard, aside from their task of caring for those in need. We see that with Phillip and the Ethiopian eunoch, and with Stephen, when he shared God's Word and was martyred for it) to help do this work because they needed "to be devoted to prayer and the ministry of the word." Not only to evangelism, but to their role in adminstering the Word. This doesn't say that their work was only to bring in non-believers, in fact, Scripture shows us that this is not the case. It shows us that as people mature in the faith, people who are not pastors can share God's Word and help care for the poor and needy in our congregations and outside of it.

When you look at Paul's Epistles, they are not about those who do not have faith. They are to The Church. They re-emphasize that we are saved by grace through faith, and then they are also about how after this, we are to guard doctrine, care for each other, and relate to the world.

In Paul's letters to Timothy, a young man that he placed as a pastor in Ephesus, there really is nothing in either one about evangelism. There is a heck of a lot there about what makes a good pastor, how women are to behave, how widows in the church are to be cared for, how we are to pray, how to choose those who serve in the church, and encouragement for when times become tough. In effect, how to manage the congregation and teach them to be godly. Titus, a letter to another pastor that Paul placed in the church at Corinth, while much shorter, is full of the exact same thing.

The Bible shows us that it really is about those who are already sitting in the pews.

Steve Benke, lead pastor of Jefferson Hills Church wrote this on his blog:

I've been a pastor for 18 years. But I've only been releasing people and equipping people for ministry for 5 years. There's no question about which one works better. I only wish I had had the courage to break out of the traditional pastor's role that I was handed a whole lot earlier. Here's why.

This Sunday we are holding a baptism event that will be the grand finale of a message series on baptism called H2O. The series put the simple and radical truth in front of people about what it means to be baptized in Jesus' name. The way that the series is equipping people to "bring people to the water", we already have 9 baptisms planned for Sunday. That doesn't even count who our people might bring on Sunday, whom the Holy Spirit might reach on the spot!

Now the average church in America doesn't baptize a new adult convert per year. I can't help but wonder how much of the problem is that too many churches are still trying to do ministry the way I was trained to do it; all by myself. Look what happens when we pastors get out of the way, and equip followers of Jesus to bring people to baptism.

He goes on to talk about how they challenged people at Jefferson Hills Church not to just go to church, but to Be The Church.

I see a couple of errors in this. First of all, if he thinks the old model of the pastor is supposed to be "doing it all by himself," I think he ought to know, he's had it wrong all along. The pastor does Word and Sacrament ministry...he preaches, catechizes, hears confession and gives absolution, and ministers to his flock....but EVERYONE in the church is called to love each other and minister to each other and to be ready to share the hope that they have, which IS Christ Jesus, when they are called upon to do so.

Whether you are off the chart contemporary or as high church liturgical as it gets, it is still every person in The Church's job to show God's love to each other and to the world.

This pastor is not being more effective because he has redefined roles and is breaking boundaries or doing anything new. In reality, while he is encouraging them to do the job they should be doing as saved Children of God, he is doing so at the expense of meeting the needs that he should be meeting as their pastor. As each sheep comes into his fold, he is looking for the next one, rather than focusing on feeding the ones God has put in His flock. There is such a strong emphasis on what they should be doing in order to be fulfilled Christians (attending small groups, tithing, participating in community events, evangelizing), how clearly are they hearing "your sins are forgiven you," how often are they receiving Christ's body and blood? How prepared are these adults for knowing what it means to become part of the Body of Christ through their baptism, or what you are supposed to be preaching, teaching, and confessing as Lutheran pastors? Why is becoming a member of Jefferson Hills Church about a pledge to attend small groups, tithe, and do community service, and not a confession of faith in the death and resurrection of Christ?

So in case you are wondering, it IS about you, the dear child, the little lamb whom God loved so much that He gave His Son for you, whom the Holy Spirit caused to believe and trust in Him however long ago. You were the lamb that the shepherd left the 99 for and went to retrieve and rejoices over. You are the child that He wants on His knee. And you are still a holy, precious treasure. Don't let any pastor tell you any differently. If he does, he is wrong.

It is about you. And you have received such a precious gift that you surely would want everyone else to know God's love. So whether you are talking openly about your faith or whether you are interacting with someone at your work or in your neighborhood, treat others with the love that God is constantly showing to you, and that God has for all people. That's how it really works. He can love them and want them to come to faith and still love you and want you to grow in the faith, to receive His forgiveness, His body and blood, and His Word through His undershepherds at the same time.


Cheryl said...

Superb, just superb. Thank you for saying this and saying it so well.

Thursday's Child said...

Amen! As always you hit the nail right on the head. Pastors like the ones you quoted are so far off track I wonder how they manage to even keep their churches afloat. They attract new members but how on earth do they keep the ones they have? There's no meat and potatoes so what do the people eat? Milkshakes?