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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Is "Church Membership" Divisive?

A friend of mine and I were discussing the issue of church membership when he asked me this question:
What are our biblical grounds to divide with any true brother in Christ over doctrinal distinctives, no matter how biblical they may be?
What follows, with minor adjustments, is my answer:


The question I really have to ask first is, "What do you mean by 'divide'?" I do not believe myself "divided" from R C Sproul even though we are not a part of the same local church or denomination and probably could not be. I'm afraid this is simply a reality in a sin-broken world where even the elect are not yet perfected. Yes, there is a division of sorts on the administrative level of our fellowship, but not one that keeps us from recognizing one another as brothers and working together in the Kingdom.

Is there biblical justification for this? Not really, at least not in the sense of a statement that says, "This is how things are supposed to be." It is simply an unfortunate reality -- and one that is insurmountable at the present time for a number of reasons

(1) Because none of us are untouched in our ability to 'reason' due to the fall, none of us sees the Bible with perfect clarity. For that reason we cannot agree completely on some very important, though non-essential to salvation, issues. Baptism is a great example, and so is the nature of plural leadership in the church, the calvinist/arminian divide, how to organize for missions etc, etc. "How can two walk together unless they be agreed?" Such differences of opinion make it all but impossible for all true Christians to fellowship and serve in the same local body. This is a very sad admission, but one that is true and has been true for 2000 years! Remember Barnabas and Paul? We could add Peter and Paul in Galatians (at least for a time), etc. And then add to the fact that it is possible even for genuine Christians to fall into grievous error, the end result is external division on the local level.

(2) Some would say, "Well then, we should not ever make an issue of such non-essential matters." As wonderful as that sounds, it ends up with a disastrous outcome. The only way to do that is to reduce down to a "least common denominator" approach to a local church's confession and practice. "We will only stand on those issues about which all can be agreed." Because the dividing line between what is essential and non-essential is in some places a bit fuzzy to us; and because that line will be drawn in different places by different people (due to the problem discussed in #1), you ultimately end up with a Methodist church -- all-inclusive but totally compromised. You see this happening right now in the discussion between some Protestants and the Roman Catholic church (you also saw it in the old "ecumenical movement") The desire for an outward appearance of institutional unity often leads to the willingness to discard much truth that is essential. Baptism is a great example. I believe firmly that baptism is a picture of an inward and spiritual reality and that Christ commands it to be accepted as an act of obedience upon a believer's public confession of faith in Him. To disregard that in order to make room for infant baptism -- since this is admittedly not an essential issue -- would to my understanding be a betrayal of the very purpose of baptism. I don't believe those who practice infant baptism are lost, but I do believe they are wrong. And I believe their practice will, of necessity, lead to the admission and acceptance of unregenerate church members -- and that is an essential issue since it tends to lead to a betrayal of biblical truth by the next generation! Therefore, I am constrained to "divide" with a brother over a non-essential, as far as local church membership is concerned. Yet, in the case of a faithful Presbyterian brother for example, I am united with him in all else and willingly and gladly work with him and fellowship with him on a number of levels beyond that of local church structure.

This brings me to ...

(3) The true church is united on the universal level, even where there is a necessary division on the local level. True biblical unity exists between all regenerate believers as they draw near to Christ. So even though I am not organizationally unified with every other believer on the planet, nevertheless a genuine union exists and can be seen in our fellowship when we meet, when we work together for the cause of Christ outside the local church structure, when we pray together, etc. And so, while we pray for a complete and unhindered unity at every level, we know that in a broken world this will never quite be the case organizationally. Therefore we act with unity and charity toward one another at ever level possible, and accept the unfortunate divisions that are necessary for the sake of conviction and truth in the mean time. You see, unless we are willing to compromise every principle outside of a very few basic statements of faith (and who would decide what those are?), this is the unfortunately necessity.

I hope this begins to help.

Well, to all who read this, keep thinking about this issue, and measuring it and your response to other believers against Scripture. May God give us a real and Christ-honoring unity!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Ministry Meeting: Godly Character

We had our first ministry meeting last night. It was great to get together with these young men who feel God's call into service, and to discus with them what that calling is all about.

Our discussion centered around Titus 1:1-9 which we agreed focuses on the godly character that is necessary for the man who would in any way lead God's people. More vital than seminary training and skill in the pulpit, or even having every doctrinal "i" doted and "t" crossed (as important as that is!) the pastor/elder must give evidence that He is mature Man of God (He is after all called an "elder" v 5 -- a word that assumes spiritual maturity!) And so the man who would lead God's people must give evidence of a growing spiritual maturity and ongoing faithfulness 1) in the home (v 6), 2) in his personal character and integrity (vv 7-8) and 3) in his commitment to hold, declare and confront with God's Word (v 9).

The words to Steve Camp's song, "The Mark of a man of God" were shared:
“The mark of a man of God is what he’s faithful to,
and what he’s fleeing from, and what he’s fighting for
“The heart of a man of God is what he daily pursues...
His family, friends, the word the church
And worship of the Lord
“The godly man daily takes up the cross of Christ
and faithfully follows him as a living sacrifice”
We then ended our time together with a discussion of how a man can cultivate godly character; personal accountability; daily walk with Christ; books we should be reading, etc.

All in all, I a believe it was a profitable time. I'm looking forward to our next meeting on February 19th when we will discuss the question: "What is the Gospel?"

Grace and Peace

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Grace Camp Meeting and Bible Conference

"You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. "

Jeremiah 29:13

We at Rockport are excited to announce our first annual "Grace Camp Meeting and Bible Conference." This should be a really great time of being challenged, encouraged and confronted in the Word, while at the same time strengthened with good fellowship. I hope to write more later, but for now, let me just give the basics.

Grace Camp Meeting and Bible Conference
Rockport Baptist Church
in Arnold, Missouri

April 10th - 13th

Featured Speakers:
Charles Leiter
Michael Morrow
Paul Washer
Mike Williams

For information, registration and speaker bios
you can go the link on our website or click HERE

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Task of a Faithful Shepherd

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.
Romans 16:17-18

John Calvin said, “The pastor must have two voices, one for gathering the sheep; the other for warding off and driving away the wolves and thieves” In other words, it’s not enough merely to exposit the truth, a pastor must also be willing to expose the errors! Why? Because not all “doctrine” is created equal. If there is true doctrine, there is also false doctrine! If there is truth that builds people up in Christ (Eph 4:15) there are lies that tear them down. There are doctrines of demons (1 Tim 4:1) and destructive heresies (2 Pet 2:1) that lead people away from Christ. A faithful pastor just be willing both to build people up with truth, and at the same time warn them about error.

Now here’s where that gets hard. Because not only must he be willing to warm them about error in doctrine. He must also be willing to help his people identify those who promote such error so they can avoid them! False teachers, like a spiritual Typhoid Mary carry the contagion of corrupting doctrine into people’s lives to the destruction of their souls. For that reason a pastor must be willing at times to get specific, just as Paul did in 2 Timothy 2:16-18 when he said,
“But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some.”

I know at times my friend Paul Washer has taken flak for being willing to name false teachers. So have I, at times, no matter how tactful I’ve tried to be (though thankfully, such complaints have rarely come from within our congregation). Most recently someone took me to task for a sermon posted on Sermon (you can find it here) But I understand. People get uncomfortable (even angry) when you start “naming names” if a name you happen to name is that of their own favorite (false) teacher.

Nevertheless, this is part of the preaching task of faithful shepherd. It’s certainly not the only task he has, but it is without doubt a part an important part of it. Just as Paul commanded young Titus, in Titus 1:9, when he told him that an elder
“must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

And the reason he must do that, v 10 continues, is because
“there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers . . . [who] must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.”

Another problem with deceivers is that they are, well . . . deceptive. If Satan can appear as “an angel of light” (1 Cor 11:14), it’s no surprise that his followers can disguise themselves as preachers of the Gospel (1 Cor 11:13). So it is necessary for faithful elders and pastors in any church, not only to expose the lie of false doctrine, but also be willing to unmask the liars who spread such teaching as well (Acts 20:28). He must name names!

So pray for faithful pastors and teachers who will , as tactfully as possible expose error (and those who promote it) as they exalt the Truth of God’s Word for the good of God’s people. Ask God to raise up faithful shepherds like those Paul describes in Acts 20:28-32

28 "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 "Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. 32 "And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

God Among Us on a Glorious Sunday!

God was among us Sunday. Yes, yes, I know that God is always present. I've taught the omnipresence of God on more than one occasion. And yet, there are times and ways that God is "more present" than in others. Sunday was one of those times.

I don't know when I first realized it. Perhaps it was as Bob began to ask different people to lead out in singing verses of "There is a Fountain". Something about the simple simplicity of different ones of you lifting up your voices and crying out to God with all your heart caused me to see God in his gracious mercy displayed in the cross of Christ that much more clearly. It was a very special moment.

Afterwards, when it came time for the sermon, it's hard for me to comment specifically on how the message was received by others -- after all I was the one doing the preaching. And yet, I became aware again of a special "help" from the Holy Spirit. I don't know what else to call it and I'm not trying to be mystical -- and I certainly would not claim any kind of special "annointing" or revelation. But God helped. I was aware of being "born along" with an added clarity and passion that was due to more than my own preparation or "feelings." (I'm doing a really terrible job of explaining this, I know, but the point is, God was at work in a very clear and identifiable way, even if it is not an easily definable way!) [Message can be found here]

Finally, we came to Sunday Evening. The "crowd" was much smaller of course (something I've never really understood), and yet the Spirit of God chose to come among us with a special grace once again. Aaron led worship. And as we began, he asked the congregation if any would be willing to share a verse or two that had special meaning to them. Once again I was stunned into gratitude as different members of our church lifted their voices one after the other after the other in a grace-filled chorus of Christ-exalting joy for mercy shown at the cross! I sat in my pew saying over and over again, "Thank you Lord, for a people who get it! Who see that the purpose of Scripture is not to give us good feelings or a sweet devotional thought, but to confront us with life anchoring truth in Christ!" The verses that were read were not the usual "promise box" verses ripped out of context to make it sound like "all is well with the world." They were passages that pointed to the triumph of grace and mercy over sin, to the steadfastness of Christ's love for His elect, and for the assurance that belongs to the sons of God who, thought they suffer in this world, have an inheritance that can never perish spoil or fade in Him! In Him! There was the unifying theme! That all we need and all we have is found in Christ by faith!

Well, I've rambled enough. All this just to say, it was a glorious Sunday and I was glad to be with the people of God in the presence of such grace!


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Barrier shattering power of the Gospel!

Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; also greet the church that is in their house.
Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia.
Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you.
Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord . . .

Greet one another with a holy kiss.
All the churches of Christ greet you.
Romans 16: 3-8, 16

Greeting, greetings, greetings! Romans 16:1-16 is one of those passages you’re tempted to skip over as you study your Bible. After all, what can you learn from a list of names like this? So the apostle Paul had a few friends? Great! What does that have to do with my life?

Well, skip by a passage like this too fast, and you’ll miss some of the many hidden blessings found in Scripture. I'm constantly amazed at the wisdom of the Holy Spirit in the way He has arranged the Bible, and I'm certain He wanted us to see something here as well. So what could it be?

First of all, the very fact that Paul names other people like this is significant. I don’t know how you tend to think about the apostle, but for many he is seen as a kind of a spiritual trail blazer – a lone ranger out there conquering the world alone for Christ! But when you actually ead the Bible for what it says, you find a very different picture. Paul is an amazing man, make no mistake about it. But he is also very rarely alone! Wherever he goes there are others – faithful friends and common Christians– who make His ministry possible.

That brings up the second thing. Real ministry takes lots of people. There is an idolatry in our age that kills true, biblical ministry. We exalt the mega-pastor and the so-called Christian “celebrity” as if the fate of Christianity stands or falls with them. But the fate of Christianity never stands with any man or any movement! It always stands with Christ alone! And Christ stands with His church! Not special people, but common people he chooses to use to make His glories known

There are 27 people are named here. Most of them, you’ve heard of! We know next to nothing about any one of them. And yet they are believers who are important, not only to the Apostle Paul, but also to the Kingdom of God! We should never underestimate the vital role of the ordinary men or women who faithfully follow Christ

Another thing that encourages me as I study this passage is the clear evidence of the barrier-destroying power of the Gospel. In this list of Paul's friends are found, not only men and women (down goes the gender barrier), Jews and Gentiles (so much for the racial barrier), but also slaves and noblemen as well (the social barrier). The Gospel of Christ has power to break down every dividing wall that we put up as it brings all believers together on equal footing under the cross as sinners saved by grace!

But not only do we see barriers coming down, we also see the wonderful power of salvation on display. In this list we find members of wicked King Herod’s family. We also see members of the household of Narcissus, a Roman who was tragically executed by Emperor Nero. What a joy to have a Gospel that can reach into any home – no matter how deep the pattern of sin or how great the experience of tragedy – to bring help and wholeness in Christ. My prayer is that we would see many similar miracles of grace throughout this new year!

Rejoicing in His Mercy!
Pastor Scott Lee

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Jonathan Edwards and Contemporary Worship Music

I've been reading George Marsden's massive biography of Jonathan Edwards (Yale Press, 2003) and I've discovered something I never knew. During Edwards' day there was a controversy over what kind of worship music to use in church. The older, more traditionalists among the laity wanted to keep to exclusive Psalm singing (usually done poorly with no accompaniment). Why? Well, mainly because that's what had "always been done" in Puritan churches and thus, it just felt more like church to them. They were against the "modern" invention of human composed songs (we call them hymns) and the use of such innovations as three part harmony and (gasp!) musical instruments.

On the other side of the worship divide were mainly clergy who felt that God was better glorified by "regular" singing where people learned parts, were free to use a variety of musical instruments and to sing songs that were composed by modern authors as long as they were faithful to the message of Scripture. Isaac Watts, of course, was at the forefront of this movement. Most will remember him as the author of such songs as "Joy to the World," "Alas and Did My Savior Bleed" and "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross". His hymns were a large part of the "new music" being sung mostly in the city churches, but largely rejected by the churches in the smaller towns and countryside.

Now, most of that I already knew. But what I did not realize until reading Marsden's book, was that Calvinist stalwarts Cotton Mather and Increase Mather (both famous preachers of the day who pretty much defined what it meant to be theologically conservative) were on the side of the new music. And right along with them, championing the new music was a very young Jonathan Edwards (in his late 20's).

For him, it just made sense. Edwards' famous grandfather, Solomon Stoddard (whose pulpit Edwards took over in 1726) had been one of the first to introduce the "new music" into rural Massachusetts, and young Jonathan continued the reforms he began.

I think if Edwards was with us today, he'd be in the forefront of those who believe in using good contemporary music (as well as solid older hymns) to the glory of God. I don't mean the fluff. There's a lot of worthless stuff out there that isn't worthy to be used in worship - both in contemporary and traditional song books. What I mean are the solid, biblical, Christ exalting songs from every age -- whether Luther's "A Mighty Fortress" Wesley's "And Can It Be", or "In Christ Alone" or "The Power of the Cross" both by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend, or any one of a hundred other new and old songs I could mention.

The point, once again, is not "traditional" or "contemporary", but Christ honoring and biblical, verse not.

In Christ Alone, My Mighty Fortress!

Scott Lee

PS - For those interested in exploring this subject for themselves I would suggest John Frame's excellent work "Contemporary Worship Music". It's a tad bit dated now and could really use a revision, but still a good place to start. Also, Sovereign Grace Ministries ( is a marvelous resource for well written "new" music with rock solid biblical words. So also is