The Extremes of Theology and the Church
Pastor Peter M. Dietsch | Download the pdf
Balance is essential for the Christian faith and life. Note that we did not say moderation. In our day, much emphasis has been placed on moderation – “Everything in moderation!” Finding the middle ground may be the best road to political peace or religious tolerance, but it is not the way of the Christian life. The Christian faith and life is not one of moderation, but one of grasping both extremes simultaneously. As God has revealed Himself and His ways to us in Scripture, oftentimes we must wrestle with an antinomy. J.I. Packer defines an antinomy as “‘an appearance of a contradiction.’ For the whole point of an antinomy – in theology, at any rate – is that it is not a real contradiction, though it looks like one. It is an apparent incompatibility between two apparent truths. An antinomy exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable. There are cogent reasons for believing each of them; each rests on clear and solid evidence; but it is a mystery to you how they can be squared with each other. You see that each must be true on its own, but you do not see how they can both be true together.”[i]
Think of a barge on a river being pulled by a rope which is tied to a mule, walking along the edge of the river. In order for the barge to keep from drifting into the shore, it must be controlled by a rudder to off-set the torque of the pull by the mule. Now imagine that that barge is rudderless. The barge will careen into the bank of the river every time. But, if there were two mules pulling that same rudderless barge – one on each side of the river – the torque of each mule would off-set the other. Thus, the two mules would pull the barge down the center of the river to arrive at its destination.
This is a picture of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Only in Christ are seemingly opposed realities able to work together to pull the fallen world toward its ultimate destination of the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Christ Jesus, was God, became man, and continues to be both God and man in His ministry of reconciliation (Philippians 2:5-11). His ministry is not one of moderation (a middle ground between two extremes), but one of mediation (a grasping of both extremes simultaneously) – He is fully God and fully man.
This concept – the grasping of both extremes simultaneously – is helpful when thinking about God, our relationship with Him, and our relationship with His people, the Church. It is a motif which runs throughout Scripture and Systematic Theology. And thus, this concept is a motif which also applies to the practical ways in which the Christian lives out his or her life in the Church. Our God is a God of extremes. Many times He grasps both simultaneously. Therefore, we are a people of extremes, seeking to grasp both simultaneously.
What follows is a description of some of the doctrines of the Christian faith which are defined by grasping both extremes simultaneously and how we as a church seek to follow this pattern in the way we minister the Word of reconciliation.
1. The Transcendence and Immanence of God[ii]
In speaking of these two categories of the attributes of God, the theologian Louis Berkhof writes, “‘Immensity’ points to the fact that God transcends all space and is not subject to its limitations, while ‘omnipresence’ denotes that He nevertheless fills every part of space with His entire Being. The former emphasizes the transcendence, and the latter, the immanence of God.”[iii] Thus, the transcendence of God refers to His being wholly other and His immanence refers to His nearness. His transcendence (or absolute Being) is expressed through incommunicable attributes such as self-existence, immutability, infinity, perfection, eternal nature, immensity, and unity. His immanence (or personal nature) is expressed through communicable attributes such as spirituality, intellectual nature, veracity or faithfulness, moral goodness, love, mercy, longsuffering, holiness, righteousness, and sovereign freedom.
2. The Unity and Diversity of God
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!”(Deuteronomy 6:4) Yet, He has revealed Himself in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).
3. The Deity and Humanity of Jesus Christ
The Scriptures teach us that the Word became flesh, and ‘tabernacled’ among us (John 1:14). In fact, it was necessary that He be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make a propitiation for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:17). In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form (Colossians 2:9); He holds his priesthood permanently, and therefore is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him (Hebrews 7:24-25).
4. The Image of God and Depravity of Man
God created man in His own image, male and female (Genesis 1:27). Our first parent, Adam, sinned, and thus all the human race died with him (1 Corinthians 15:22a). Thus, all mankind is dead in their trespasses and sins, by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3). Yet, we see the perfect image of God in the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4), the exact representation of God’s nature (Hebrews 1:1-3). Only through Jesus Christ are we able to come to our Father in heaven (John 14:6).
5. The Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility of Salvation[iv]
As King, God orders and controls all things – including human actions. As Judge, God holds every man responsible for the choices he makes and his courses of action. In creation, not one sparrow will fall to the ground apart from our Father in heaven (Matthew 10:29). In respect to His saving work, we cannot question the potter and His decisions which He makes concerning His clay (Romans 9:18-21). And we also know that God will hold mankind responsible for his actions and judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus (Romans 2:1-16).
6. The Already and Not-Yet of the Kingdom of God
“The fact that the kingdom of God is present in one sense and future in another implies that there remains a certain tension between these two aspects. We can describe this tension in two ways: (1) The church must live with a sense of urgency, realizing that the end of history as we know it may be very near, but at the same time it must continue to plan and work for a future on this present earth which may last a long time. (2) The church is caught up in the tension between the present age and the age to come.”[v] Jesus began His earthly preaching ministry with these words, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). The kingdom of God is a present reality. Yet, there is a future consummation which we await as evidenced by the fact that on the Day of Judgment not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21-23). The kingdom of God is also a future hope. This understanding has far reaching ramifications for our understanding of the present condition of the people of God – the Church.
7. The Already and Not-Yet of our Adoption
Paul speaks to the already and not-yet nature of our adoption almost in the same breath. In Romans 8, we learn that “all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Romans 8:14). And yet, with creation, the sons of God groan and suffer in the pains of childbirth – waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons (Romans 8:22-23).
8. The Already and Not-Yet of our Sanctification
After recounting the wondrous work of Jesus Christ as the perfect sacrifice, which fulfilled all of the shadows of the Old Testament sacrificial system (Hebrews 10:1-10), the writer of Hebrews tells us, “For by one offering He has perfected [past tense]for all time those who are sanctified [present tense]” (Hebrews 10:14). Thus, in Christ, believers are set apart, positionally; and they are also being made more and more into the likeness of Christ, progressively (Philippians 1:9-11).
9. The Inclusivity and Exclusivity of the Covenant of Grace
The saving work of God as expressed in the Covenant of Grace is inclusive. Jesus Christ was slain and purchased for God with His blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Revelation 5:9). In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free man, male nor female; we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). Yet, this same passage points to the exclusive nature of the Covenant of Grace – the necessity of faith in Jesus Christ. “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been give among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
10. The External and Internal Nature of the Word of Faith
Too often, we are told in the church today that what one does or says is not as important as what one believes. To be sure, there is an element of truth to this statement in that we are saved by faith alone in Jesus Christ, apart from our works. However, there is an external element of this faith which Paul refers to in his letter to the church in Rome, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation” (Romans 10:9-10). Thus, it does matter – to some degree – what one says and does. There is both an external and internal nature to our faith.
11. The Individual and Corporate Nature of Salvation
As the previous verses from Romans emphasize, each person must confess with their mouth and believe in their heart in order to be saved. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). Each individual must come to a knowledge of the truth and be saved. Yet, redeemed individuals are not saved by themselves. From the witness of the early church, we know that the Lord saves individuals and adds them to the number of His people – the Church (Acts 2:47). Though the body of Christ is comprised of individuals, it is a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession who were once not a people, but now are the people of God, having now received His mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10).
12. The Objectivity and Subjectivity of the Covenant of Grace
In speaking of the objective nature of the Covenant of Grace, we mean that apart from anything that I – as a sinful creature – may bring to the table, God is the one who saves. He initiates by His sovereign will. The covenant which He enters into with fallen men through His Son, Jesus Christ, is monergistic and unilateral (Titus 3:4-7). Yet, the Covenant of Grace is quite subjective. Our God is a very personal, loving, and intimate Father who cares dearly for His people. This kindness of God becomes subjective in the hearts and minds of His people as it leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
13. The Unconditionality and Conditionality of the Covenant of Grace
The love of God is often spoken of as being unconditional. This is true, as far as it goes. We know that we may not earn salvation or cause God to love us more by our actions – “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). In this respect, the saving work of Jesus Christ and the love of God are unconditional. Yet, there is an aspect in which there are conditions. First, it was necessary for Christ to die for us because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). Second, faith is a gift from God, but also a condition of salvation for the individual – “As many as received Him [the Son of God], to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12-13).
14. The Visible and Invisible Nature of the Church
The visible church refers to those who have been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. These names are kept on church roles. This is as man sees it. But the Lord does not look upon the face of men; He sees their hearts (1 Thessalonians 2:4). So, we may also speak of the church as invisible: all the saints known to God, past, present, and future. “We can deny neither the visible nor the invisible aspects of the church. Limiting the church to its visible aspect erases the reality of God’s election. Since the Lord knows his own sheep, given him by the Father, we may say that the church invisible is the church as God sees it. We hear words and observe actions; we can be deceived by hypocrisy, or fail to recognize true faith. God alone knows every heart.”[vi]
15. The Local and Universal Nature of the Church
The Church is universal – not confined to one nation, as was the case with Israel in the Old Covenant. In the New Covenant, the people of God are defined by “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:5-6). Yet, this faith is expressed in the life of the local Church in “the true preaching of the Word, proper observance of the sacraments, and faithful exercise of church discipline.”[vii] One cannot speak about the universal church without speaking about the local church, and visa versa.
We have perused a wide variety of doctrines in theology in which we have attempted to be faithful to the Scriptures in our grasping both extremes simultaneously, culminating in the doctrine of the Church, specifically, the local Church. It is to this local Church to which we now turn our attention. In keeping with this motif of grasping both extremes simultaneously, we will begin to lay the foundation for the philosophy of ministry for this local body of believers.
Malan Nel writes, “A fundamental question of theology is HowdoesGodapproachus? Theology’s answer is God approaches people and his creation in many ways – by means of his Spirit and of his Word, but also by means of other people. (ultimately, of course, God can come to us in any way he pleases.) In fact, the Bible is quite clear that God approaches people by means of people – which is the essence of ministry. Our attempts to understand ministry are attempts to explain God’s coming, yet human insight and expression are severely limited trying to articulate these things.” [viii] Nel proposes the following pie-chart as a model for thinking about the ministry of the Church.
“In all eight ministries it’s about serving God ,serving one another ,and serving the world – in all cases, as a community of the faithful. in this way every designated mode of God's coming is founded on God's communicative involvement in the church and the world." [ix]
In speaking to the various ways in which the church seeks to glorify God, nurture His people, and reach the lost, we will use Nel’s categories of Christian ministry. In keeping with our theological motif, we will also seek to apply the concept of ‘grasping both extremes simultaneously.’
1. The Favor and Vengeance of Preaching[x]
Our pastor is encouraged in his preaching, by the promises of God to those who declare the word of God in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:1-3). Jesus claimed that these verses were fulfilled in Him and His ministry in His first coming (Luke 4:16-21). Those who minister in His Name bear His mantle of authority and responsibility to handle the Word of God rightly.
So, in preaching, we hear the good news to the afflicted. The Gospel is the message which is to be proclaimed by those who would preach in continuity with the message of Jesus Christ. According to Isaiah’s words, this good news includes two extremes: the favorable year of the LORD and the day of vengeance of our God. Thus, the Gospel entails all of God’s redeeming work through His Son Jesus Christ. All of the Old Testament points to the fulfillment of this Gospel in Jesus Christ’s first coming for salvation (John 3:17), His second coming in judgment (Hebrews 9:27-28), and all the time in between (1 Corinthians 11:26).
Preaching is the most important thing that a pastor does all week. “The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.” (WSC 89). It is the way in which our Lord has chosen to call unbelievers unto himself, and it is the way that believers are encouraged in their faith (Romans 10:13-17; Galatians 3:1-5). Shepherding depends upon preaching and preaching depends upon shepherding. In the pulpit the pastor lays the foundation for his shepherding. When choosing the text, our pastor typically preaches through a book or section of a book of Scripture. This helps in keeping both the preacher and the congregation on track. It also forces our pastor to preach all of Scripture, rather than bouncing around at his own, or the culture’s, every whim. When selecting a book or a section of Scripture, our pastor takes a number of things into consideration: what do the people need at this particular juncture in their corporate life, how can we best balance preaching from all of Scripture (Old and New Testaments, narratives, Gospels, epistles, prophets, etc.).
We believe that preaching ought to be expository and Christ-centered. By expository we mean that the text of Scripture upon which the sermon is based, is that which determines the content of the sermon. In this way we are trusting in the transformational power of the Word of God, as the church submits to the truth of the Scriptures, and the power of the Holy Spirit to speak to us therein. Expository preaching also means that the preacher stands upon the authority of God’s Word when he declares what the text says, and only what the text says. Of course, the preacher will make pointed and specific application, but again, this is determined and extrapolated by the text.
By Christ-centered we mean that we also understand the text based upon the person and work of Christ. That is, the progressive revelation of God which we find in Scripture, continually points us to the saving work of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and His fulfillment of all God’s covenant promises. Each text brings us to Christ. The way in which each text brings us to Christ is not imposed by the preacher, but rather is determined by that text itself. The expository and Christ-centered nature of our preaching work hand in hand, as we seek to mimic the preaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, as he came preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
2. Biblical and Systematic Teaching[xi]
In what has come to be known as the Great Commission, Jesus gives a mission to the Church, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) Making disciples is an important and necessary task of the Church. According to Jesus’ words, making disciples of all the nations begins with an understanding that Jesus Christ has all authority. Because of that, He is able to commission, send, and empower. Specifically, making disciples of all the nations has a beginning and a continual nature. It begins in baptism and continues by teaching His followers to observe all that He has commanded us.
As we seek to be faithful to the Great Commission, a practical question will often arise (especially in our current setting): Should we teach the Bible and Theology or should we structure our programs of Christian Education around the felt needs of the people to whom we are called to minister? This is an inappropriate question. We teach the Word of God and Theology in order to meet the felt needs of the people to whom we are called to minister. But, this begs another question: Should we be Biblical or Theological in our approach? In other words, should we teach through the Bible, or should we teach systematically through particular doctrines. This is an appropriate question. The answer is ‘Yes.’
Christian Education is best when it is both Biblical and Systematic. Each and every one of us has an interpretive grid through which we interpret the Scriptures. To deny this would be self-delusion. The trick is to understand one’s own interpretive grid and then have it conform to the Scriptures through Biblical instruction. Then, as our interpretive grid (or systematic theology) develops, it helps us to better understand and interpret the Scriptures appropriately.
As a confessional church, we subscribe to the Westminster Standards. These are helpful and insightful. However, their true purpose is to continually bring us back to the Word of God by illuminating the coherence and truth of the Scriptures. The Standards helps us to interpret Scripture, and to better form our own personal interpretive grids through which we read the Scriptures.
Unfortunately, we all succumb to the false notion that we may actually ever read the Scriptures without a grid. The trick is to seek to have one’s grid defined by the Scriptures. This is why the proper balance between Biblical and Systematic Theology is important. One’s systematic theology informs his reading of Scripture; and one’s biblical theology informs his formation of a systematic theology. The more our systematic theology is informed by our biblical theology, the better we will be able to interpret Scripture. And, the more our biblical theology is then shaped by our (rightly formed) systematic theology, the better we will be able to assimilate what we have learned from God’s Word and be both hearers and doers of the Word (James 1:23-25).
3. Glorifying and Encouraging Worship
For the believer, all of life is worship (1 Corinthians 10:31). Our view of corporate worship (when the people of God gather together) may best be described by the word ‘dialogical’. Unfortunately, most people view worship as a monologue. Some view worship in this way, by merely asking, “What benefit do I receive from worship?” Some view worship in this way by merely asking, “What glory does God receive in worship?” We can learn from both positions. In corporate worship, we give glory, praise, and honor to our Triune God, alone. However, the worshipper does receive blessing, encouragement, and conviction. We believe, as our Directory of Worship states, that these are the elements of worship, as prescribed in Scripture: reading of Holy Scripture, singing of psalms and hymns, the offering of prayer, the preaching of the Word, the presentation of offerings, confessing the faith and observing the Sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s supper); and on special occasions taking oaths (BCO 47-9).
As to the forms of the elements of worship, again, our Directory of Worship says, “The forms of public worship have value only when they serve to express the inner reverence of the worshipper and his sincere devotion to the true and living God. And only those whose hearts have been renewed by the Holy Spirit are capable of such reverence and devotion.” (BCO 47-5). The elements of worship are given to us in Scripture, and are employed in our worship services in culturally appropriate ways and in the vernacular of the people.
Singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs is one of the elements of worship and helps all people, young and old, to learn the language of faith. In our worship services, we typically have simple instrumental accompaniment and use the Trinity hymnal or Psalter.
In summary, the corporate worship of the service is glorifying to God and encouraging to the worshipper. These are not mutually exclusive concepts, but ones that must be maintained in proper balance.
4. Loving and Committed Fellowship of Believers
It is not uncommon for people to disassociate emotion from commitment. This is usually the case because people give an inordinate amount of weight to their emotions – “I fell out of love, so I got a divorce.” Commitment is often solely based on the emotional feeling at the time, and thus emotion and commitment are often seen as two separate entities. This ought not to be the case, especially for the disciple of Jesus Christ.
In a culture that is defined by individualism, capitalism, and consumerism, the Church of Jesus Christ must stand in opposition to the world – not only in its teaching and doctrine, but in all facets of her life, particularly with regard to fellowship. Jesus told His disciples, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Paul learned on the road to Damascus that when we love or persecute Jesus’ disciples, we love or persecute Him (Acts 9:4). Whatever we do to the least of Jesus’ brothers, we do to Him (Matthew 25:40); conversely, what we don’t do to Jesus’ brothers, we don’t do to Him (Matthew 25:45). The Apostle Paul was so consumed by the love of Christ for God’s people that he could say, “For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection [literally, ‘the viscera’] of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:8).
It is interesting that, as the early Church grew, in the list of their activities which Luke records for us in Acts 2:41-47, second only to the apostles’ teaching, is fellowship. “Fellowship in the early Christian Church meant serious commitment, following the one who said that he lay down his life for his friends. Genuine community, then, means being continually, strenuously devoted to one another in the congregation. Since the root meaning of the Greek word for ‘fellowship’ is ‘having in common,’ it means sharing deeply in each other’s needs and carrying one another’s burdens.”[xii]
In the early Church, believers were devoted to one another (an emotion) and had all things in common (were committed). In all that we do as a Church, we seek to be loving and committed to our brothers and sisters in Christ. And, we can only effect this love and commitment if we know one another. That is why activities and ministries of the church where interaction is more readily fostered are essential to growing the love and commitment of believers; ministries like Sunday school, working in the nursery, Bible studies, eating, relaxing, playing together, or simply physically working together to accomplish a goal.
5. Motherly and Fatherly Pastoral Care
Most secular counselors and psychologists will tell you that their ultimate goal is that the counselee feel better about themselves. Indeed, the pastor seeks to be gentle among the congregation, ‘as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children’ (1 Thessalonians 2:7). Yet, the pastor also seeks to exhort, encourage, and implore each one, ‘as a father would his own children’ so that they would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls them into His own kingdom and glory (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12).
Thus, the work of the pastors and elders of the church must be motherly and fatherly. They must tenderly and gently care for the sheep of the flock, while boldly and firmly keep watch over the souls, as those who will give an account (Hebrews 13:17). In his confrontational and thorough book, The Work of the Pastor, William Still is worth quoting at length:
“What does it profit if, by specious and plausible means, we gather a whole lot of folk around us who are not converted to Christ at all, or are only half-baked, because we are afraid to turn the heat on them? Let us have reality above all things in this business of pastoral work. Let us turn the white light of the all-searching eye of God upon men and let Him sift and search them out, and then let His love draw them. Then let us feed them on the ‘finest of wheat’, building them up, until God thrusts them out into His harvest fields. This is how His work is done, fruitfully and lastingly. But, remember, the pastor is not a spiritual doctor. The tension in his work is between the ministry of the Word and the guiding of the soul. The Holy Spirit is the Doctor. The work is done through a ‘dead man’ ministering the living Word in the power of the Spirit, wooed into the midst by the prayers of the saints.”[xiii]
The pastoral care which is provided by the pastors and elders of the church is essential to the spiritual growth of the individual believer and the congregation as a body. God has gifted and called particular men to pastoral ministry. Like any organization or organism, the Church is centralized in its ministries. Leaderless entities always devolve. However, the body of Christ is like the human body, where each part does not have the same function, but are all members of the one body (Romans 12:4-5). Each member has been gifted in different ways and is therefore called to use those gifts in ministry and pastoral care (Matthew 25:14-30).
6. Free and Bound Deeds of Mercy
One of the distinguishing marks of the community of believers – the Church – is that they love those from whom they don’t expect to receive anything in return. This love is characterized by good deeds and mercy (Luke 6:32-34). Jesus explicitly says that this is a mark of true Christianity, “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36). “Christ’s mercy was not based on worthiness; it was given to make us worthy. So also our mercy must not only be given to those who reach some standard of worthiness.”[xiv]
As believers in Christ, we have received the mercy of God – free of charge. Freely we received, freely we give (Matthew 10:8). Our giving and ministries of mercy come with no strings attached. While we must be good stewards of the things that God has given to us, we must also never restrict our giving to the needy based upon any inherent value in them or interest that we might accrue for our investment in those less fortunate.
We serve a merciful and loving Father who expects nothing in return. Indeed, our accomplishments are rubbish compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord (Philippians 3:8). However, we are also bound by our union with Christ to give, and cheerfully, at that (2 Corinthians 9:7). As believers in Christ, we are freed from the condemnation of the Law, but we are servants of our Heavenly Father and therefore slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:19). James tells us that “judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). Thus, we are bound by our covenant with Christ to show mercy, individually and corporately.
Practically, this means that we minister to those in the body of Christ – caring for the sick, the needy, the less fortunate, the young, the old. The “least of these my brothers” of Matthew 25:40 is not a static category. Each member of the body of Christ falls into this category at different stages of their life. And, each member of the body of Christ is able to minister to the needs of another believer, in varying degrees, and at various times.
But, not only should our love for the saints be manifested in the way we minister to the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ (Romans 12:9-14). We are to bless those who persecute us; not being overcome by evil, but overcoming evil with good (Romans 12:15-21). This means showing the love of Christ to those outside the community of faith. A tree is known by its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). We are a people who have been freely shown mercy; therefore, we are a people who are bound to freely show mercy to others.
7. Familial and Efficient Management and Administration
Often, we may think of management and administration as purely secular concepts which have no part in the ministry of the church. The creedo “Anything organized cannot be religious” runs contrary to the teaching of Scripture. As Malan Nel writes, “The ministry of the management and administration of the congregation is usually explained with a helmsman term, cybernesis (1 Corinthians 12:28). The early church was often contemporarily described as a ship with Christ himself as the helmsman. The cybernesis ministry is related to a strongly pastoral term for leadership, used in Romans 12. It connotes a pastoral ministry of care and empathy, which was the duty of the leading members of the early church. This ministry is about the caring guidance in the name of the Helmsman, and implies an orderly and appropriate journey toward a destination (1 Corinthians 14). The unity and the edification of the congregation should be served in this way.”[xv]
Within this category of management and administration, a proper balance is essential. Some feel that an overemphasis or an improper adherence to proper management and administration will have an efficient, but cold, effect on the ‘feel’ of a church. Others feel that without proper management and administration, the ministries of the church will be lost in a fog of disorganization. Like the family farm, the Church must be loving, caring, and have an aroma of grace that permeates all her aspects – including management and administration. At the same time, the Church ought to strive to operate with the efficiency of a large-production, industrial-like farm.
A better creedo for the Church in this regard is “Mission first, people always.” If this be the mantra of the pastoral staff and administrators of the Church, we will be thinking more like Christ. The mission of the proclamation of the Gospel and the care of God’s people are certainly not mutually exclusive. Each is a facet of “glorifying God and enjoying Him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q1).
8. Deliberate and Natural Witnessing
It is appropriate that we began our discussion of the ministries of the church with preaching and that we conclude with witnessing. One of the benefits of consistent and exegetical preaching is that members are confident that when they invite their friends to church, they will hear the Word of God preached. In missions and evangelism, the best ‘Gospelizers’ are people who best understand the Gospel. This is our goal: that the people of God come to learn to rest in the promises of God such that they are able to live confident lives in Christ. And, that they would see why believing in Christ and resting solely in His work is the proper motivation for holy living and evangelism. People are not mechanical machines and have different needs and perspectives which require patience, understanding, and continual nurturing.
Witnessing and evangelism will look different depending on the situation, but it must be deliberate and natural at the same time. It must be deliberate because God has “reconciled us to Himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20a).
In addition to being deliberate, witnessing and evangelism must be natural. Authenticity, vulnerability, honesty, consistency of life, and an holistic view of one’s spiritual life are important for all generations and consistent with what Christ would have us be. In our culture, there seems to be a general suspicion of someone who thinks that he has it all figured out or has it all together. Obviously, that describes none of us. One of the greatest obstacles that we believe must be overcome in the evangelization of the post-modern generation is to counter the belief that everyone can be right. We have to show the distinctive nature of the Christian faith in that it is inclusive (it is for all who call upon His name) and exclusive (there is only one way to the Father, and that is through His Son, Jesus Christ).
Many people in ‘burned over’ portions of the country falsely believe that they are Christians because their parents were, because they were baptized into the church, or because they are generally good people. This is where good preaching and teaching helps to crack that veneer in the people of the congregation and then teaches them how to show their neighbors that “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, He will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).
Our witness to the world must be deliberate. We must continually learn and relearn what it means to believe the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. We must continually be diligent to present ourselves approved to God as workmen who do not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). At the same time, our witness to the world must be winsome and natural, with proud confidence in the testimony of our conscience. Conducting ourselves in the world in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God (2 Corinthians 1:12).
[i] J.I. Packer, Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God (Leicester: University and Colleges Christian Fellowship, 1961; reprint, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 18-19.
[ii] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1958; reprint, 2003), 57-81.
[iii] Louis Berkhof, 61.
[iv] J.I. Packer, 22.
[v] Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979; reprint, 1994), 52.
[vi] Edmund P. Clowney, The Church (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 109.
[vii] Edmund P. Clowney, 101.
[viii] Malan Nel, “The Inclusive Congregational Approach to Youth Ministry,” in Four Views of Youth Ministry and the Church, ed. Mark H. Senter III (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2001), 5.
[ix] Malan Nel, 6.
[x] See also Bryan Chapell, Christ-centered Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Company, 1994).
[xi] See also Jim Wilhoit and Leland Ryken, Effective Bible Teaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Company, 1988; reprint, 1995).
[xii] Marva J. Dawn, Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001), 95.
[xiii] William Still, The Work of the Pastor (Aberdeen: William Still, 1984; reprint, Carlisle Cumbria: Paternoster Publishing and Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 1996), 49.
[xiv] Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 2nd ed. (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing Company, 1989), 61.
[xv] Malan Nel, 12.