First, my church strives after the glory of God in all things with a strong emphasis on the Scriptures and Gospel-Centrality. This works itself out in a commitment to expository preaching. This method of preaching, above all others, highlights the Word of God, which is sufficient and authoritative for all matters of “life and godliness.” This means allowing the Scriptures to drive our practice and not tradition for tradition sake. That means we evaluate our practices by Scripture and not “how we have done it.” This led us years ago to change the “Sunday School” practice to a “small-group” model. This was not easy, but a church that trusts the sufficiency of Scripture is willing to make changes. This is not to say that small groups are the only biblical model that encourages fulfilling the “one another” passages, but it is a route that takes those commands and the fellowship of the church seriously.
In addition, this has led us to a focus on discipleship. This love for the scriptures and the glory of God in all things drives our church to grow “theologians” who think well about God and life. This can only be done through a focus on discipleship. This has been a major problem with the SBC. There has been such an emphasis on “numbers” especially “Baptism” numbers, but this has caused us to miss the emphasis of Matthew 28. Because we have seen the end goal as merely “dunking” someone in water we have failed to reach the end goal of equipping and maturing believers in Christ to be disciples who are disciple-makers. How does our church focus on discipleship? Our church focuses on several factors that might be helpful to all SBC Churches.
First, there is a membership process; this comes directly out of our belief in the Baptist distinctive of “Regenerate Church Membership.” This starts, as our Lord commanded us, with Baptism and initiation into the community of God. In order to be baptized at our church, you have to meet with the Elders and share your testimony with the congregation. Second, there is a membership class that lays out the values and visions of our church that all “members” have to go through to become part of this gospel community. During this process, each new member must have an interview with one of our elders. The importance of our small group ministry and our focus on a Regenerate body (also we explain that we employ redemptive church discipline as a means of discipleship and love for erring members and for our witness to the outside world) are detailed during this process.
Next, members are integrated into a small group, which is the primary means of discipleship and community in our church. This is the place that we carry out the “one another” commands in scripture given to the gospel community. This is where we challenge and encourage one another in discipleship and love. A practical example, when someone in the small group or care group has a child, the care group provides meals for a month for them. In these groups, we also confront one another over sin and we challenge each other to grow in our love for the word and our maturing in Christ. This is where we seek to live “life together” outside of just a Sunday gathering, as they did in the New Testament (C.f. Acts 2). In addition, and in context with our focus on regenerate church membership, the care group leaders are trained in biblical peacemaking and helping through conflicts in a redeeming, gospel-centered way. Through these groups our church begins to recognize the men that are potential future leaders, either as elders at our church or in church planting elsewhere. These men are then moved into a “shepherd’s training” program (more about that later).
Finally, in the context of Gospel-Centrality, there is a focus on being as diverse as the community around us. The gospel has broken down the dividing walls of race, socio-economic status, and cultural differences, and our church strives to be a gospel witness through a unity in the gospel.
Second, our church is adamant about the primacy of the local church. This plays itself out in the training up of leaders (2 Timothy 2:1-2). This is done in house. The elders and leaders in the church begin to identify men that they see as potential leaders and church planters and they invite them into our “shepherd’s training.”
The elders invite these men that they have identified into the 2-year program; it is not open to everyone. He is then paired with an Elder or leader in the church, along with one other trainee. This leader focuses on personal development and maturity with him. In addition, there is a focus on accountability and the character necessary for an elder. He meets with this Elder/leader every other week to go through these things and to work through memorizing the Pastoral Epistles. In addition, he also meets every other week with all those in the program and all the trainers. Each “semester” during the 2-year cycle focuses on a different aspect of pastoral ministry and leadership. The every other week meeting focuses on the portion of the Pastoral Epistles that was to be memorized that week. One of the Elders then leads through an exposition of that passage and the other elders add thoughts on the passage as well. Next, all the trainees are required to read a book for the week, examples of books read are Baxter’s “The Reformed Pastor,” Dever’s “Nine Marks of a Healthy Church,” Spurgeon’s “Lectures to My Students,” and Bonheoffer’s “Life Together.” Each week, two of the trainees deliver an oral book review of the book for that week and then ask questions of the book that the elders answer and discuss. Finally, the night ends with one of the elders lecturing on an area of pastoral ministry and then discussion of that topic among the elders and trainees. The topics range from “why we employ small groups” to “regenerate church membership.” In addition, during the semester the trainees write two position papers on topics of interest in pastoral ministries. The topics of these papers are things like, view of spiritual gifts in ministry, use of alcohol in ministry, view of divorce and remarriage, and view of church government. Finally, each trainee is to work on a ministry project in some area of church life. The goal is to lead to the training of future elders and church planters through life on life training. This is the best way to evaluate whether a man possess the qualifications of an Elder and if they are ready to take on a role such as that.
Finally, in the focus of church primacy, my home church does church planting and missions “in house.” They have already raised up in house the leadership for five church plants. Four have launched in the last Five Years and one more will launch this summer. These church plants are located in Downtown Raleigh (NC), Wilson (NC), Del Rio (TX), Myrtle Beach (SC), and Boston (MA). It seems that a major focus for the GCR is church planting. My church is a model for how to do this and how to do it well. They have assessed and raised up leadership in house, which is the best evaluation process there is because the life of a planter is viewed over a long period of time. Through this process, Elders can determine if these church planters fit the qualifications of an Elder laid out in the Scriptures. This process has been effective, as these plants are viable and themselves moving toward future planting. If the focus of the GCR simply is discipleship and multiplication, seen in healthy churches discipling their people and then planting churches with these people, here is a model.
This focus on the primacy of the local church does not mean that my church does not seek to be aided by the convention structures, but it means that they do not farm out missions’ work or church planting to an outside organization. Unfortunately at times, they have had to go around convention structures to do the work of missions and church planting. It is my hope and our church’s hope that a GCR will focus on how convention structures can best serve local churches so that SBC churches do not have to go around convention structures to cooperate in mission work that the Bible has assigned to the local church.
Finally, how does my church focus on missional living? First, there is a focus on the small groups being missional. They are all to carry out community projects in our “We Love North Raleigh” campaign. There is the hope that small group leaders will instill in our people the importance of being missionaries in our community, sometimes through tangible projects, but also through just daily life.
Second, as has been mentioned, we focus on missional living through church planting. Recently, our elders have moved us from being “just” a church planting church, to a church that has created a network that encourages further church planting through cooperation. The model still holds though that the church is primary, and the teams will be launched out of local churches being served by this Pillar Network. And the idea is to perpetuate the model of my home church through focusing the churches planted out of this network on three values: Gospel, Community, Mission.
In addition, the church has worked hard at overseas and cross-cultural missions. One of the ways our church is involved in cross-cultural missions is very exciting. Through our church plant in Del Rio, Texas, which is a border town with Mexico, we have set up a Bible institute in Acuna, Mexico that trains Mexican pastors. This is for the purpose of strengthening the local churches in that area and having those churches multiply this effort in their own country.
My church is certainly not the only model, but it is a model that I wish more Southern Baptists would take a look at. Some reading this blog are probably incorrectly assuming that we are a mega-church and that only Mega-churches can do what is being laid out here. This is not the case. In fact, SBC.net shows the average attendance at around 700. Instead, this is simply a church concerned with discipling and multiplying. It is not concerned with mere numbers or high attendance, but with multiplying. And the way they have gone about it should be examined and emulated by churches of all sizes. If this were so, and as the convention structures begin to aid and assist churches like this in planting and missions, we may see a genuine movement in our midst, and maybe just call it a resurgence.
I believe a potential model for what a “Great Commission Resurgence” Church in the SBC might look would be my local church. I want to state up front that I am not the pastor, nor vision setter for my church. I joined this church when I moved to seminary because I believed that my own spiritual maturing would take place best at this church, though there are other great churches in the area and many that could be a model Great Commission Resurgence Church. When I say “model” GCR Church, what I mean is, if SBC churches looked like this, accompanied by the power of God, we would experience a true Great Commission Resurgence. I perceive that in other areas of Evangelicalism and even in some churches in our convention there seems to be the beginning of a great movement of the Spirit. I am no pneumatologist (not sure that is a word) but I have observed several factors common among the churches that are experiencing the beginnings of what might be a mighty movement. Those factors, or values, are an obsession for the glory of God, gospel-centeredness, a focus on the primacy of the local church, and a missional focus.
In order to proceed I must define these four terms. I think most evangelical churches would say, “yeah, we affirm those” but I think reality is much different.
So with that as a backdrop, tomorrow I will explain how our church finds itself striving after these things and so making it a model GCR church.
Part of the reason why a recovery of church discipline is essential for the church in the 21st century is because Jesus says that discipline is a practice carried out with his authority. When Jesus gives the process in Matthew 18 He also says that whatever the church binds on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever the church looses on earth will be loosed in heaven. Then Jesus gives his famous words that are so misunderstood, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (18:20). What is Jesus saying? Jesus is saying that when the church comes together and practices discipline the congregation is speaking with the authority of Christ. If the church lovingly calls someone to repentance and the person repents, the church restores them to the fellowship and is announcing with the authority of King Jesus that this is what the Kingdom of God looks like (this person is acting like a saved individual). If the person refuses to repent and the church dismisses them from the congregation, then the church announces with Christ’s authority that this is an unbeliever who will face judgment if they do not ever come to repentance. However, if the church refuses to discipline someone who is involved in serious, public, unrepentant sin, then the church is saying nothing except that they have removed themselves from Christ’s authority. Churches that refuse to practice discipline in these cases are telling the person, the congregation, and the lost that the Kingdom of God is made up of the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, etc. That is anti-Christ (1 Cor. 6:9-10). The practice of discipline calls sinners to repentance with the authority of King Jesus and those who heed it hear the words from King Jesus himself through the congregation, you were sexually immoral and outside of the Kingdom “but you were washed…you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).
At this point a word of caution is necessary. Church discipline is in need of recovery because so many churches fail to practice it. However, this does not mean that pastors or congregations who suddenly come to embrace discipline as a biblical practice should in response suddenly implement it in the congregation. Rushing into this, doing it without a firm handle on the biblical directives, or doing it before the congregation has been given time to understand and embrace it can be foolish. A pastor must first teach his congregation what the Bible says concerning discipline. Then, it can be implemented slowly, humbly, lovingly and wisely. Bitterness and retaliation are far too easy for fallen creatures, so we must guard against using church discipline as a weapon to inflict harm or payback (see purpose above). Church discipline should not be rushed into. Loving and patient leading is necessary.
Third, churches who do this can expect increasing backlash and persecution in the future.
The truth is that we live in a culture in which even the discipline of children has been rejected. Withholding discipline from children is seen as loving and progressive. If you say that you spank your children, then many will look at you as if you are an alien from another planet. It is obvious that in that kind of culture, a church that practices loving discipline will face backlash. Not only will public complaints increase, but the churches that practice discipline can expect to face being sued, other law suits, and much more in the future.
Fourth, we need to sincerely pray for this woman. She should be more concerned with the impact her actions have on her children than she is with the impact the church’s actions will have on her children.
Hancock has two children (20 year old son and 18 year old daugher). They have remained members of the church and will be there on the Sunday (January 4th) that the church votes to remove their mom from the congregation. Hancock says, “I don’t really care what they do to me. But I am concerned about my children sitting in church with their mom being crucified by the church that they trust.” She is worried about how this action will affect her children. It is ironic that she is more concerned with how the church lovingly calling her to repentance for an action that Jesus says will end in the judgment of Hell will affect her kids than she is with how her continual sexual immorality will affect them. The church is lovingly preaching a message to her, her children, and others that we will give an account for our sin. We cannot create our own morality. Actions have consequences. We will stand looking Jesus of Nazareth in the face awaiting judgment (Matt. 25:31-46). I pray that she would come to embrace this truth being preached with Christ’s authority by her church and repent. I have seen what church discipline can do, and it is wonderful. I have a friend who was also involved in immoral sexual relationships, pornography and other sins. His church began the discipline process on him, but through loving accountability and counseling God began to change his life. He turned from his sin. He threw himself on the mercy of King Jesus. He was saved. His marriage and family were rescued. He is serving faithfully in the church. Now, the Gospel transformation in his life has also led to the salvation of others in his family. This is what church discipline is intended to do! That is the Gospel message this congregation seeks to preach to Hancock, her children, her boyfriend, and others. I can think of nothing more loving. This congregation and this post are NOT trying to thrown stones at Rebecca Hancock. The message of church disicpline is that ALL of us deserve the judgment of God, and if it was not for the cross and the resurrection of Jesus we would all receive it. Church discipline calls us ALL to repentance and trust in our King.
Hancock speaks of herself almost as if she is Jesus being unjustly “crucified.” She is being tortured while her children look on helplessly. But, Jesus is not the biblical character she most resembles. In fact, she is more like the woman at the well who is in an immoral relationship (John 4). When Jesus encountered this cohabitating and sexually immoral woman, with a past filled with divorce and relationship turmoil, He both lovingly offered her the water of life and lovingly rebuked her immorality. Jesus’ words not only transformed her life but also “many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.” (John 4:39). Naming her sexual sin on that occasion was not cruel. It changed her life and the lives around her. I pray that this would be the outcome in Jacksonvile, Florida. Jesus stood in the flesh calling this woman to repentance and eternal life, and He changed an entire town. If this church carries out discipline then Jesus of Nazareth will be in Jacksonville, Florida on January 4th speaking familiar words that he uttered almost 2,000 years ago to another woman in a similar situation. His voice shook that town. It will certainly shake Jacksonville.
A 49 year old woman in Jacksonville, Florida was in the news recently because she made it known publicly to news outlets that her church is in the process of disciplining her and is going to make her sins known publicly (something she has ironically done for them already). You can read the story for yourself. Rebecca Hancock has been involved in a sexual relationship with her boyfriend that is clearly condemned in Scripture. When her church mentor learned of the sin she too told Hancock that it was sinful and urged her to repent. After refusing to repent of the habitual sin, she was confronted by her mentor and other women. After this meeting, which she thought was an incredible invasion of her privacy, she withdrew from the church but her children remained. She recently received a letter saying that if she refused to repent then the church will publicly identify her sins (and presumably vote her out of the congregation, though the news story does not indicate this).
This is an extremely interesting story, and several observations about it need to be made. First, the church is acting appropriately! They are following a command laid out by King Jesus to restore those who refuse to repent of sin and might be on a path to destruction and judgment (Matt. 18:15-19). Jesus describes the process of church discipline as first lovingly confronting the individual, calling them to repentance and restoration. If the person refuses to repent, then there should be a second confrontation, and this time others should come along so that there are two or three witnesses. If the person again refuses to repent, then the final step is to tell it to the whole congregation and remove the person from the fellowship of the congregation. Jesus says that the congregation now treats the person as if he or she is an unbeliever and lost because the person is not giving any evidence that they are saved.
What is the purpose of church discipline? The purpose of church discipline is ALWAYS redemptive and for the good of the person. Discipline is loving. The Bible says that those who refuse to discipline their children do not really love their children (Prov. 13:24). We discipline our children because we love them and want to keep them from harm. The Bible even says that disciplining children is evangelistic. We discipline our kids to see them come to Jesus as their Savior (cf. Prov. 19:18; 23:13-14). The same is true of church discipline. Churches discipline to keep the offender from harming self or others who might stumble at their sin. This process is undertaken to rescue someone not exclude them. It is just like evangelism. The church is telling the person that if they continue in the path they are choosing then it will mean God’s judgment, so the church lovingly calls the person to repentance and the avoiding of judgment. It is the equivalent of stopping a car that is headed off a cliff. If the person repents, then it gives evidence that he or she might be saved. If the person refuses to repent then it casts doubt on whether or not the person is actually saved.
Why should churches practice church discipline? They practice it for at least three reasons: 1) for the good of the person in sin (see above), 2) for the good of the church (1 Corinthians 5 says unrepentant sin can spread to whole body and affect them. Discipline calls others to repentance and the fear of God’s judgment. It serves as a warning to the whole congregation), 3) for the good of the lost in the community. If a person is allowed to continue in a sin expressly condemned in the Bible and still remain a member in good standing with the church then the lost in the community will think that this is what a Christian (a person saved by King Jesus) looks like. That kind of practice would preach a false gospel that God has no standard and is okay with people who claim to be His living immoral lives. This church in Jacksonville is loving Rebecca, even if she refuses to believe it. This church is loving the other members in the church. And, this church is loving its community because it is preaching a message to them that sinful actions will be judged and if they are not repented of then the outcome will be deadly. This church is preaching the gospel to its community, telling them that the Kingdom of God is made up of sinners just like them who humbly repent and depend upon Jesus.
Why is church discipline necessary in the church? The Chursh is supposed to look now like the Kingdom of God will look when Jesus comes back. That means that there should NOT be any lost people on church roles. However, in a fallen world until Jesus comes back it will be true that the membership of churches will be made up of genuine believers and false professors (though churches should work hard to minimize this). The church discipline process is intended to reveal those who are false and those who are genuine before it is too late. If a person repents then it gives evidence they are saved. If a person refuses to repent of a habitual sin, then it gives evidence that they may not be saved. The church practices this judgment ahead of the final judgment to plead with the person to repent (cf. 1 Cor. 5). If they never come to a state of repentance then there is no good reason to believe they will be saved from the judgment to come.
Second, other churches need to recover the biblical practice of church discipline in the 21st century.
The Pastor of the church in Jacksonville stated that the church is simply doing “nothing more than following the practices of what biblical churches have done through history.” That is true. Discipline has been a mark of the church from the beginning. Unfortunately far too few churches actually practice it today or practice it rightly. So many have shied away from it for one reason or another. Many have stopped practicing church discipline out of cowardice and accomodation to the culture. We live in a culture of political correctness where morality is seen as negotiable and no one has the right to tell another what he or she is doing or believes is wrong. Others have stopped practicing it because they are unaware of what the Bible says. Still others, mainly pastors, refuse to practice church discipline out of fear for their jobs. Sometimes discipline might affect a prominent family in the church, or the congregation might not be on board with it so pastors will refuse to (patiently!!!) lead their congregation through the process. Sometimes it is because discipline would actually decrease the numbers in the church, and that is obviously not a good resume builder for any pastor… I pray that churches in the 21st century, especially the churches of the SBC, will recover this biblical practice because it is right and it is helpful (see above). If what the Bible says is true, and church discipline is loving and evangelistic (seeking to save lives from Hell), then it is clear how important it is for churches to practice discipline and how dangerous it is for them to refuse to practice it. Nothing less than the purity of the church, Christ’s Bride, is at stake here.
The need for recovery is even seen in some of the comments made by Dr. Bock in the news piece. He rightly says that it is not uncommon for churches to focus on discipline, but he also says that discipline is normally reserved for church leaders rather than “a normal member of the church.” This is not what the Bible says. Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 are two of the key texts on discipline and they do not mention a distinction between the discipline of members and leaders within the church. 1 Corinthians 5 talks simply about “a man” in the congregation. Matthew 18 talks about “your brother.” Dr. Bock also says the actions of the church are unusual because Hancock withdrew from the membership of the church. While it is true that many churches will simply stop the process when a member stops coming, that is NOT what the Bible is talking about when it explains church discipline. In our culture people attend and join churches as consumers. If I at any point don’t like the product any more then I’ll simply “shop” elsewhere. That is why church discipline is so necessary. Even if the offender leaves, the church should still carry out discipline because it has the responsibility before God to do what He calls them to do. Allowing an unrepentant offender to leave the church and potentially go to another one without ever having to face accountability or be publicly disciplined is not right or good for the person, the congregation he or she is leaving, the congregation he or she is going to, or the community. The offender’s disciplining church should notify any future church that the person left under discipline so that any future church could pick up the process of loving accountability.
Part 2 will be posted later this week. It will deal with issues like the authority of Jesus in discipline, practical words of caution, what the future will hold for churches who practice discipline, and the hoped for outcome of the situation in Jacksonville.
From time to time, here at Baptist21 we will post a question posed to some of our faithful forefathers. Today I post a query that was posed to the Philadelphia Baptist Convention in 1748. We would like to hear from you. How would you, had you been a member of the convention, answered and advised this church? In a few days, I will post the answer from our Philadelphia brethren.
Query posed from the Church at Horseneck in New England:
1. “Whether to deny the foreknowledge of the eternal God, concerning all future evil as well as good, be not a fundamental error?”
The Association’s answer to 1. “We look upon such an opinion to be directly repugnant to Scripture; therefore exceeding erroneous and pernicious. First, because it supposes God imperfect, and so no God. Hebrews 4:13. Secondly, If so, there would be no room for the divine fall of man, which is contrary to express Scripture Testimony. Thirdly, It is an error, which, in its nature and consequences, doth oppose and tend to overthrow the whole Christian Religion, Acts 2:23, 4:28.”
2. “Whether a member of the church holding such an opinion, endeavors to propagate it, and obstinately persists in it, is not worthy of the highest censure, notwithstanding he pleads matter of conscience?”
The Association’s Answer to 2. “We judge such worthy of the highest censure; because a church is to proceed against a person who is erroneous in judgment, as well as against one vicious in practice, notwithstanding they may plead conscience in the affair. Titus 3:10, 2 Thessalonians 3:14.”
The query posed above to the Philadelphia Association over 200 years ago shows that many of issues that we are dealing with are not “new”. Some of these errors go back centuries, and calling the foreknowledge of God into question did not start with Pinnock, Boyd, and others. The Philadelphia brethren were dealing with similar issues; they labeled them for what they were, heresy, “erroneous” and “pernicious.” This kind of question calls into “question” the very attributes of God and the church must call such a teaching and such a teacher to account. The wording used by the Philadelphia Association about this kind of teaching is masterful, we find it “directly repugnant to Scripture” and it “supposes God imperfect and so no God.”
We see that in a negative way, “there is nothing new under the sun” and yet in this example I believe our Philadelphia Forbearers in the faith got it right. Ken Keathley says in a post on the matter of church discipline that clear heretical beliefs are worthy of excommunication if they are persisted in, and the Philadelphia brothers agree, they would have no room in the church pews for members like Boyd and Pinnock, instead they would say such heretical teaching is “worthy of the highest censure.”
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