Doodle: Keep Preaching to the Choir

“Now I know I’m preaching to the choir,” is something I have caught myself saying in the pulpit on numerous occasions, teaching on the importance of belonging to a local church. We say similar things when we discuss passages in small group that emphasise meeting together, encouraging other Christians and living in community. It is a cliché and therefore about as useful as it is original. When we meet together to hear God speak – as the Bible is read, taught, and applied – we may be the metaphorical choir but that does not make us any less in need of being convicted by the Spirit. Imagine a believer in the church who received the letter to the Hebrews shouting, after 10:25 was read, ‘Hey, we’re here; stop preaching to the choir.’ It’s ridiculous because God’s Word gathers us and addresses the gathered. Furthermore, you need only read Hebrews 10:24 to see that merely meeting together is inadequate, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together.”

ChurchThere is more to being a part of the church than meeting together. We must make no apology when emphasising the value as well as the purpose of meeting together, as if all of those who are gathered are committed to stirring one another up to love and good deeds. The gospel we preach does not simply say, ‘Come to church.’ That is the nominal poison believed and preached in many South African churches, especially among older generations. No, the gospel says that Christ has saved us for himself and to minister to his people. We need to keep preaching to the choir because there are people regularly attending church who play no active role in encouraging others. If people are uncomfortable with the demands of Jesus then it may be because they do not know or love him. Certainly, one of the ways we show our love for Christ is by being concerned for the interests of his people (Philippians 2:19-30). Keep preaching to the choir.

Christ taught that the numerical size of local churches is a fraught statistic, attendance can mean very little. Therefore, just as we do not apologise for preaching Christ and him crucified week after week, we should not baulk at challenging the gathered church about their personal investment in the local church. We preach the gospel Sunday by Sunday because it is a grave mistake to think the church visible is the church invisible. In a similar way, we keep seeking to convict Christians with regards to their love for God’s people, or lack thereof. Just as we keep preaching to spiritual corpses (Ephesians 2:1-3) we must keep preaching to the choir. We must regularly call for faith and repentance, not forgetting that all Christians still have much repenting to do. So keep preaching to the choir.

Since John Calvin kicked off this short series of posts thinking about our gifts and using them to serve the local church, I will quote him as we finish. “And this is the place to upbraid those who, having nothing but the name and badge of Christ, yet wish to call themselves Christians…Either let them cease to boast of what they are not, in contempt of God; or let them show themselves disciples not unworthy of Christ their teacher” (3.6.4).

Beware the Love of Missions

Walking away from churchLast month I wrote an article challenging the increasingly popular statement, ‘I identify as a Christian but not a churchgoer.’ Numerous reasons are given for that sentiment, with people claiming: ‘The church hurt me,’ ‘Most Christians are too judgmental,’ and ‘I don’t need the church to have a relationship with God.’ In my article I argued that such a view of the Christian life – regardless of your reasoning – is disobedience to Jesus and discordant with the gospel. Theologian Millard Erickson wrote, “Christianity is a corporate matter, and the Christian life can be fully realized only in relationship to others.” The Christian life is inseparable from and unsustainable without Christian community. In this short post my challenge is not directed at to those with an anaemic understanding of the local church but an ungodly attitude towards it, which is hidden behind the pious veil of a love for missionaries.

In my previous post I made the point – Paul’s from Ephesians 2 – that as we are brought to Christ we are inevitably joined to other believers, becoming mutually committed to one other’s faith and spiritual maturity. The decision to withdraw from the local church is therefore the decision to withhold my God-given gifts from other Christians. Obviously, you can still be a part of the local church and contribute nothing to the lives of others; one of the ways to do this, without losing face, is to express a passion for missions. It is after all much easier to love those who are far away, in word (and rarely in deed). You might even pray for missionaries, give financially to their organisations, and insist that the local church remembers those in the field – all worthy efforts – yet overlook the Christians right in front of you.

Please do not hear what I am not saying. The local church must zealously support the work of missionaries; as John Piper says, Christians can either send or go but they cannot be indifferent to missions. That means our churches must be committed to training and sending missionaries (and church planters) or continually giving towards mission. However, I agree with Mark Dever, in What is a Healthy Church?, when he says it is impossible for us to love the church universal without first loving the church local and visible. He writes this, “If your goal is to love all Christians, let me suggest working toward it by first committing to a concrete group of real Christians with all their foibles and follies. Commit to them through thick and thin for eighty years. Then come back and we’ll talk about your progress in loving all Christians everywhere.”

Old people in churchWhat prompted me to write this post was the confusing paradox I have witnessed in some Christians: apathy to the point of spiritual abandonment of the local church alongside a fervency for the missionaries supported by our local church. How can this be? One of the answers is, in my opinion: in practice it takes less effort and personal investment to be committed to the work of missionaries than working in the local church. I fear that some (definitely not all) who pour themselves out for missions might in fact use that as a smokescreen for their unwillingness to get into the trenches. After all, a passion for missions is admirable and desirable, not to mention desperately lacking in most local churches. Therefore we must gratefully receive those with a concern for missionaries, but not if their love of missions is not coupled with a commitment to the life of the local church.

Dever writes, quite probingly, ”Committing to a local body…confirms what Christ has done. If you have no interest in actually committing yourself to an actual [local church], you might question whether you belong to the body of Christ at all.” Though typically sensational, Dever makes a challenging point as we conclude. Jesus insisted on perceptible and palpable love amongst his disciples, calling us to imitate his selfless and self-giving love (John 13:34; 14:15; 15:12), by which the world will know we are his disciples (13:35). Surely such love must begin at the local church.

The Workings out of Women’s Work

WomenAtWorkGiven my genetic makeup and consequently the fact that I wear makeup, I am in the position once again where I am required to address my thoughts and beliefs regarding women in ministry. Just the other day I was in the regular weekly meeting with our senior pastor discussing ministry, difficulties and general feedback when, at the end of the hour, I was asked the question. For the ignorant among us, the question when speaking to a woman who is in, or wants to go into, ministry is, “what do you think the woman’s role is in the church?”

Over the years I have been encouraged on more than one occasion with regards to my teaching ability, and I have also cherished and thoroughly enjoyed the moments I have spent teaching and explaining ideas – particularly the Scriptures. New acquaintances generally assume I want to work with little children, but when during my college years I declared that I am not in the Children’s stream but the Pastoral stream of Theological training I was met with the raised eyebrow, concerned stares and the occasional, “…Oh!” I assume many think I want to pastor a church, impose feminist views on the congregation and achieve world domination. Sorry to disappoint, but that’s not at all what I’m looking for. I simply love teaching, I love explaining, and I love to see others cherish and understand the Word of God.

However, my pastor was right; as a woman I need to be able to give an answer to the question. Men might have all sorts of ideas and views, and at times they have the liberty simply to say, “It’s difficult and I’m still working out what I think exactly and where to draw the lines”. This would not be a satisfactory answer from a woman though, because it directly affects the way she lives and ministers now. Before the woman can do anything she must ask the question.

There are many passages of Scripture I could turn to however, I think 1 Timothy 2 speaks most clearly on the issue; and when I say clearly I mean most directly addressing men and women in the church without focusing mainly on the roles of husbands and wives. “But…but…Paul is a male chauvinist and is just asserting his culturally impaired views”. No, Paul is an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope (1 Tim 1:1); the reason Paul is writing at all is to preserve the doctrine and witness of the church and, Paul grounds his reasoning in universal and timeless truth since creation (1 Tim 2:13-14). Stott suggests that we use ‘cultural transposition’ at this point, and in many ways that is a helpful way of looking at the text, however it still places the reader in the judgment seat deciding what to file and what to put through the shredder.

Now obviously women are allowed to speak, since we have vocal chords and do the whole talking-thing way better than most men do. But the setting, situation, context in which women speak is the issue at hand. Women are encouraged to teach other women (Titus 2:3-4) and there are instances in which women are permitted to exercise their gifts in the appropriate way (1 Cor 11:5; Joel 2:28-29); but it is at the corporate church gathering that the shepherding, rebuking, correcting and teaching is to be done by a man.

For many women the problem comes down to desiring the position and headship of the man, but this was even considered at the very beginning where part of the curse was that Eve would desire her husbands’ authority, and man would often abuse it (Gen 3:16). This is a hard verse for me to hear because yes, my own heart’s desire does often drag me to the steps of treason, but as women we often become too caught up in the roles we can’t play that we ignore and neglect those key areas that only we can fill.

women and cakeFor women: Women’s ministry in many churches has been reduced to tea parties and gossip sessions. It’s our job to teach, instruct and model godliness to other women. Being women teaching women means we can connect and teach on a level that no man could attain. We can teach women gospel truth, deep theological gems, and fulfill our God given role, and even eat cake at the same time. If we neglect this role, there is no other man who is going to step in the gap. This is our baby and we need to take responsibility. It is my own conviction that when women do minister in a more corporate setting that it never questions the leadership of the elders or assumes authority over the pastor; it must always be done in a spirit of humility and submission.

For men: Encourage women to get involved in women’s ministry. Just because women cannot hold the role of pastor and shepherd does not mean that every other door must be closed. Women have great potential if only they were taken seriously. I think in many cases the topic of women in ministry has become an issue simply because women are restricted from exercising their gifts at all. How many pastors do most churches employ before they see the need for a women’s worker?

img class=”alignright size-medium wp-image-997″ alt=”women and cake” src=”http://www.rekindle.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/women-and-cake-300×190.jpg” width=”300″ height=”190″ /