Friday, July 25, 2014

Grateful for Chad Phelps

Throughout the week leading up to Saturday, July 27, 2013, we were following Chad’s Tweets and Facebook updates about his first camp trip at Camp Co Be Ac as Youth Pastor at Colonial Hills Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. Late Saturday afternoon, while washing my car, I received a text message at 5:08pm with news that there had been a very bad bus accident. 

Having been a youth pastor for nine years, and knowing that a vehicle accident on a youth activity was nearly our worst fear, I could only imagine what Chad was going through. So we immediately prayed for Chad and the youth group and I sent him this text:

“Oh, Chad! We are in constant prayer for you right now.”  My smart phone signaled that the message had been “delivered.” Having also heard from a later text that there were fatalities, my initial thinking was that Chad was in the midst of the most trying moment of his life as he sought to minister to the teens and parents in such a crisis.  About fifteen minutes later I received word that Chad, Courtney, their unborn daughter, and an adult sponsor, were killed in the bus crash.

I am grateful to the Lord for having known Chad and I’m very thankful that I had the privilege of being his youth pastor for six years. I was very blessed to be his friend. I miss Chad very much.

At the year anniversary of Chad’s death, I want to share some of why I miss Chad so much. I also want to preserve for those who didn’t know him in the capacity I was able to, some of these treasured memories.

Chad’s family has served all of us who loved Chad so much by their Fanning the Flames posts. But I wanted to add three thoughts about Chad that I miss painfully. He was funny; he had a great sense of humor. He was a loyal friend. I miss that very much. And, he was a preacher that I really enjoyed listening to.

            Chad, was a lot of fun to be with. Chad began joking with me when I was a pastoral intern in 1997. That summer he was a short, third-grade prankster. He found out that I was paranoid about house sitting for his parents. On more than one occasion, he hid himself in the garage or closets and jumped out suddenly with a shrill junior-age scream. He would scare the heebie-jeebies out of me and almost cry with laughter as he observed my fright. Chad was witty, and could use sarcasm in an entertaining way. As his youth pastor, if I mispronounced a word, he was always the first to “catch” it.  On one mission trip, I couldn’t find my pajama shorts (my “boxers”). After looking everywhere for them, I returned to the room where all of us guys were sleeping, and Chad had his body illuminated by a flashlight that he was holding over his head. The spotlight revealed that he was wearing my shorts! He said, “Are you looking for these?!” I loved getting together with Chad because I always knew we would laugh, a lot.  Chad didn’t take life or himself so seriously that he couldn’t enjoy living and see the humor in almost every situation. I was recently reviewing my last few months of text messaging with Chad and I found this one that he sent me while I was on a mission trip to Haiti: “Hey, you butt-dialed me from Haiti. Left me a nice long voicemail of some good French preaching.”  I miss all the fun that I enjoyed with Chad.

            Chad Phelps was a loyal friend. Chad was a great kid in youth group. Given that he was the pastor’s son, he was refreshingly “normal.” He struggled with the same stuff that the other teens struggled with. He ended up “in trouble” every now and then like any typical teen working out his salvation. I hope my boys are like Chad as they both go through their youth-group years—normal, growing Christians.  Most youth pastors would agree that you don't develop lifelong friendships with every teenage guy that comes through your youth group. Chad was different though. Even in the last three years of high school, Chad became a young man who interacted with me as a godly friend, not just a teen in the youth group. We enjoyed talking about sports (a lot!), preaching, politics, ministry, colleges, and even his dating interests. Chad was a loyal friend. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). When his family moved to Watertown, Wisconsin, and then later on to Indianapolis, Chad always kept in touch. He would always break up any season of silence between the two of us with a short text, Facebook message, email, or a call. (He would often leave me “professional” voicemail messages! I miss those.) When Chad was being considered to serve with his dad as the next Youth Pastor at Colonial Hills Baptist Church, Chad privileged me with multiple phone calls as well as a lunch together to discuss the possibility. I told him that the best nine years of my life were the ones that I was able to serve with his dad as youth pastor at Trinity. And I reminded him that as friends, we had discussed and partnered in youth ministry together for years already! Here are a few text messages Chad sent me as he was transitioning during his first year as Youth Pastor.

“Deacons voted 24-2 in favor of recommending us to the church, PTL” (July 22, 2012).

“Accepted the vote tonight! Very thankful to the Lord!” (August 12, 2012)

“First Sunday is September 16. Very excited” (August 12, 2012).

“First day as YP today. Foremost in my mind was the incredible impact you had in my life as my YP. Very grateful for your impact, and the opportunity to ‘mimic’ you” (September 16, 2012).

“Prayed for you this morning. Your impact on my life is evident every day that I minister here. Love you and thankful for you” (January 25, 2013).

“7th grader preaching in Bible today. . . . Remind you of anyone? Like a Twilight Zone experience J(April 19, 2013).

“Heading out on Saturday for my first teen mission trip. Printed off trip notebooks last week. Could probably get arrested for plagiarizing your trip books. ‘This isn’t Burger King. . . .’ J(June 13, 2013).

            Chad was a preacher that I loved listening to. I remember the first sermon I ever heard Chad preach in the seventh grade. You could barely see his little head over the pulpit. His voice hadn’t “changed” yet, so he was pretty squeaky. But what a sermon came from that little, junior-high stature! That summer I took him to Toronto, Canada, on a mission trip. He was the preacher on a couple of occasions. The first was at a large nursing home. There were at least 50 senior adults at the service. The team ministered with a few songs prior to Chad preaching. The chaplain was a retired Lutheran pastor. The pulpit was over on the far left-hand side of the chapel. Chad, even as a seventh-grader, was definitely the son of a Baptist pastor and he couldn’t handle that! He said, “Pastor Brian, can you move that pulpit to the center of the room before I preach? I can’t preach from a pulpit that isn’t in the center.” We moved it! Following Chad’s sermon, the Lutheran pastor, after hearing a more undiluted Gospel sermon than he had probably ever heard, said to Chad in a smug tone, “Very good homily, young fellow. But, you have a lot to learn.” Actually, Chad had just delivered the best sermon that I had ever heard a seventh grader preach. “Who had a lot to learn?” I always loved hearing Chad preach. He possessed his dad’s passion, but he was his own preacher. He was always so careful with the text, passionate in his proclamation, and empathetic in application. I would listen to his sermons that he would post on his youth-group page. Grateful.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Worship and Music Philosophy of Trinity Baptist Church

Pastor Brian Fuller and Pastor Kyle Harding

We long to see Thy churches full,
That all the chosen race
May with one voice, and heart and soul,
Sing Thy redeeming grace.
̶ Isaac Watts

True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him (John 4:23). This is an amazing singular text in which we are told of something specific that the Father is seeking. God the Father is seeking worshipers who offer truthful and spiritual worship. Below is our imperfect attempt to submit to the Scriptures and the Spirit in offering collective worship at Trinity Baptist Church like our Heavenly Father is seeking.

As your pastor, I am willingly tasked to feed you, to be an example for you, and to oversee your spiritual welfare. That spiritual oversight includes seeking to protect you from carnal debate and unnecessary division over personal applications, extra-biblical teaching and personal tastes (I Timothy 1:3-7).  Currently in our ministry, there continues to be regular discussion and questions about the topic of worship and music.

          In an effort to emerge from the smog of the Worship Wars, we offer you our Worship For’s. We believe it will be more beneficial for our church family to have clarity as to what we are for rather than simply what we are against.  

Pastor Kyle and I have co-authored this article.  To assist you in knowing who is writing, I have placed a BF in front of my comments and KH next to Pastor Kyle’s comments. Consider the following:

We Are for Scripturally-Regulated, Gospel-Centered Worship

KH - The consummation of the Gospel (the sinless life, vicarious death, and triumphant resurrection of Jesus Christ) abolished for all time the sacrificial system and rites of the Old Testament and ushered in a new era of worship (Hebrews 10:9; John 4:21-24).  The Word of God has laid out general truths about corporate worship that His church is to follow in this age of grace.  Our desire at Trinity is to include in our Lord’s Day worship those things that God instructs His church to practice in their gatherings – this principle is called the Regulative Principle of Worship.  Simply put, our order of worship will include the reading, praying, singing, and preaching of God’s Word (Acts 2:42; I Timothy 1:8, 4:11-16; II Timothy 4:1-2; Ephesians 5:18-19; Colossians 3:16).  We will also observe the ordinances of Communion/Lord’s Table and Believer’s Baptism on a regular basis (I Corinthians 11:17-26; Acts 41; Roman 6:3-4).  Because the truths of the Gospel have transformed our view of worship (Romans 12:1-2; Hebrews 12:22-24, 13:15-16), we seek to lay out an order of service that allows us to be reminded of these truths every Lord’s Day morning.  The basic content of our worship gatherings will include songs, prayer, and Scripture readings that allow us to be reminded of who God is (adoration), who we are (confession), what we have in Christ (assurance of and thanksgiving for pardon), and what we need to do (dedication).  There is also a time of instruction from God’s Word.

BF - These elements of Scripturally-focused and Gospel-centered worship are now reflected in our church bulletin’s order of service for us to follow each Lord’s Day. This serves us wonderfully as God’s people seeking to offer worship to our Father that is truthful and spiritual. On a personal note, I would like to just add that I have never, in my personal Christian experience, looked forward to worshiping together with God’s people like I do each Lord’s Day at Trinity. I am observing weekly that this kind of Scripturally-regulated and Gospel-centered worship provides spiritual equilibrium to God’s people (Psalm 73:17) and creates awe and conviction in the hearts of unbelievers (I Corinthians 14:24-25).

We Are for (very!) Congregational Singing.

KH - The only time music is mentioned in a gathering of believers in the New Testament church is in the context of congregational members singing to one another (Ephesians 5:18-19; Colossians 3:16).  In following with the Regulative Principle of Worship, the majority of the musical portion of our worship services will include the whole congregation singing together. 

Because of our desire to include as much congregational participation as possible in our musical worship, we will seek to use the musicians (voices, piano, orchestra, and other instrumentalists) that the Lord has given us to support the voice of the congregation.  Our rehearsed musical groups will dedicate time in their rehearsals to prepare songs that they can sing and play with you, not just for you.  This builds within our congregation the expectation that all the music within our worship services is selected with a specific purpose in mind and that they will be the main participants in the musical portion of our collective worship.  Whenever songs are selected that do not include congregational participation, they will be used to fill a specific role in the service, even to help teach a new song to our congregation.   

BF - You can expect, then, that our instrumentalists and vocalists will be endeavoring to employ their gifts not to entertain us by their excellently trained voices or instrumental skills, but rather to stimulate us to sing vibrantly as a congregation.  We will choose both old and new songs, hymns and spiritual songs that our congregation can sing truthfully and vibrantly. In a nutshell, we are committed to the primacy of congregational singing in our musical worship.

We Are for Affirming Truth.

KH - The Scriptures are clear that God is Truth and everything that He has revealed about Himself is true (John 14:6, 17:17; Hebrews 1:1-2).  Any truth that is spoken or written belongs to God; in fact, His Word even contains quotes from secular sources (Titus 1:12-13; Acts 17:18).  Concerning the songs that we sing in our services, we desire to take the biblical and historical approach that what is sung is more important than who wrote it or performed it.  For historical perspective, consider the following quote from the preface of the hymnal that C.H. Spurgeon compiled for his congregation:

The area of our researches has been has wide as the bounds of existing religious literature, American and British, Protestant and Romish ancient and modern. Whatever may be thought of our taste we have used it without prejudice; and a good hymn has not been rejected because of the character of its author, or the heresies of the church in whose hymnal it first occurred; so long as the language and the spirit commended the hymn to our heart we included it, and believe that we have enriched our collection thereby. The range of subjects is very extensive, comprising not only direct praise, but doctrine, experience, and exhortation; thus enabling the saints according to apostolical command to edify one another in their spiritual songs.

If we were to scour the authors and composers of our own hymnal(s), we would find that many songs that we sing were written or composed by people that we would not agree with on issues of doctrine, church polity, and lifestyle, among other issues.  The historical practice of hymnal compilation, and subsequently the singing of the church, is to select songs from various sources that allow participants to fulfill the biblical obligations of church music: to teach and encourage one another with the truths of Scripture (Ephesians 5:19). 
This filter of selecting music for our worship services places a priority on lyrical content.  This not only fills our corporate gatherings with rich Gospel truths, but it also equips the saints with truths to arm themselves with during the week.  The songs that we sing should be able to bring comfort for trials, provide armor for temptation, and cause remembrance of our position in Christ.  Songs built on trite repetitions and cursory views of God and the Gospel do not provide these. 

BF - For the sake of clarity, the source or association of a particular song will not be a factor in our decision for offering a musical selection to our people. Who penned the lyrics, whether it be Saint Francis of Assisi or Chris Tomlin, Fanny Crosby or Laura Story, matters little, while what they have penned (the text) is very important.

In conclusion, I want to appeal to all of our folks with a few pastoral comments:

·      This is the worship and music philosophy position of your pastors. A position represents a set of principles or a biblical sieve that we are able to run all of our worship selections and practices through. A position is different than a direction. A direction represents an intentional (and often secretive) movement towards a destination through incremental steps. You can visit sermons and blog posts by me and Pastor Kyle, here, here, here, and here to see that this has been, and continues to be, our position. While it would be na├»ve to think we will all agree, we hope that you will be able to see that our positions stand under the scrutiny and tests of the Scriptures.

·      This is the worship and music philosophy for our worship gatherings. The principles in this article assist us in selecting and ordering our collective worship services at Trinity Baptist Church. As your pastors, we are also concerned about all the media you allow into your and your family’s ear and eye gates (II Peter 2:7-8). We will continue to warn you and your children that the Evil One desires, through our desires, to conform us to the thinking of this present age (Romans 12:2; I Pet. 5:8). Such conformity is spiritual adultery and destructive (James 4).  However, we affirm that specific musical stylistic elements have neither been condemned nor commended in the Scriptures.  So individual decisions regarding musical style are in the category of things doubtful or indifferent (I Corinthians 8-10; Romans 14) and should be engaged in with Christian love and deference.

·      This is the worship and music philosophy built upon our understanding of the Scriptures. Here we stand.  No doubt, some confusion has been created by many of us pastors having had little to say about the topic of New Testament corporate worship while saying much about stylistic and associative aspects of musical selections. Such a myopic approach has created confusion. One thing, it creates the impression that acceptable worship and acceptable style are synonymous. And that leads one to further think that worship is really just about music and singing. While music and singing are important aspects of collective worship, there is much more to spiritual and truthful worship. Also, to monopolize our teaching regarding worship on the topics of style and association (which the Scriptures have next-to-nothing to say) is to skew the proportionality the Scriptures give to other aspects of truthful and spiritual worship. It has been helpfully stated:

“The degree to which you emphasize what the Scriptures do not emphasize, is the degree to which you will neglect what they do.” [i]

·      True biblical unity is founded upon Truth and the speaking of that Truth to one another.  Ephesians 4 teaches us that the unity that we have as the Body of Christ is built upon seven doctrinal acclamations (Ephesians 4:4-6). It is a Spirit-created unity through the Gospel that we are tasked with endeavoring to maintain (Ephesians 4:3). It is important to remember as believers that there is a difference between our comfort zone and our consciences. Our conscience can be re-informed biblically. Our comfort zone has to do with background, personal tastes, and a host of other fluid variables. I appeal to all of our church family to heartily participate in truthful and spiritual worship for the glory of our heavenly Father. Please communicate with me ( and Pastor Kyle ( with your questions. I exhort you to resist the sinful temptation of selfishly boycotting songs during our collective worship service, or dividing and debating by sinful communication but rather to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

How Sweet and Awesome is This Place

How sweet and awesome is this place
With Christ within the doors,
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores!

Here every bowel of our God
With soft compassion rolls;
Here peace and pardon bought with blood
Is food for dying souls.

While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?

“Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?”

҆Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste,
And perished in our sin.

Pity the nations, O our God!
Constrain the earth to come;
Send Thy victorious Word abroad,
And bring the strangers home.

We long to see Thy churches full,
That all the chosen race
May with one voice, and heart and soul,
Sing Thy redeeming grace.

Isaac Watts, Hymns and Sacred Songs, 1707.

[i] Conley, Drew. Music Philosophy and Practice

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

7 Habits for Effective(Blessed) Pastoral Ministry

Philosophy of Pastoral Ministry

I blush at the title of this post, as it sounds about as presumptuous as writing a post entitled, “7 ways to become a humble person.”  My disclaimer (that the Trinity family, of whom I am privileged to pastor, would candidly concur) is that almost all of these 7 “habits” unfortunately continue to be occasional practices for me personally. My prayer is that they would be formed in me so that they could accurately be called “habits.” So, the following “habits” are submitted as a potential prayer list for church members for their pastor as well as a Gospel goal list for all of us who are blessed to be called “pastors.”  This is the second article regarding the ministry philosophy of Trinity Baptist Church. You can read the first article, Our Ministry Blueprint, here.

1.            Being an Example to the Believers.

“My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.”  Admittedly, when I first read this quote by the influential Scottish pastor, Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843), I didn’t immediately see it. Honestly, my thinking was that there were other more pressing “needs” that our church family needed from me like preaching riveting sermons, casting exciting vision, and creating wonderful ministry programs. Then, I cast the quote alongside some Scriptures. For instance, the Apostle Peter, who seemed early in his ministry to have a proclivity for emphasizing doing over being, challenged elders to “be an example to the flock” (I Peter 5:3b). This is consistent with the pastoral letter in which Timothy is admonished to “be an example of the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (I Timothy 4:12). A pastor’s personal pursuit of God through his own appropriation of the Gospel, his prayer life, his feeding on the Word and Christ, and his perfecting holiness in the fear of God, are not “extras” but essential to effective pastoral ministry. Indeed, “my people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.”

2.            Being an Expository Preacher and Teacher of the Word.

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word.”
(II Timothy 4:1-2a)

The risen, ascended Christ has issued gifts of verbal leadership to His church (Ephesians 4:11). Through the habit of preaching and teaching God’s Word and the Gospel, effective pastoral ministry builds up the church. Expository preaching is the proclamation of the historical, grammatical, contextual, Holy-Spirit-intended meaning of a passage of Scripture, as well as providing suggestions of appropriate contemporary applications of that proclaimed Truth (Nehemiah 8:8).  The heartbeat of expository preaching is built upon confidence in the sufficiency of the Scriptures (II Timothy 3:16-17) for “faith and practice.”  While general topics in God’s Word can be addressed in an expository fashion profitably, as well through “topical sermons,” the general practice of effective pastoral ministry will be the line-by-line, paragraph-by-paragraph teaching and preaching of the Books of the Bible.

3.            Being an Empathetic Under-Shepherd.

Is there any more motivating phrase in the Bible for a pastor than: “When the chief Shepherd appears?”  Learning the heart of the chief Shepherd is the most beneficial mentoring that we can receive for effective pastoral ministry. The chief Shepherd is “meek and lowly of heart” and His “yoke is easy and His burden is light.” So even the brash Peter teaches us to not be “domineering over those in your charge.” There is no place for the “big-man syndrome” in effective pastoral ministry. “I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27). The too-often valid caricature of the fundamentalist pastor with haughty swagger, harsh spirit, and lack of personal transparency is a distortion of the Apostle’s ministry that he compared to “like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (I Thessalonians 2:7). In addition, this empathetic ministry, like our chief Shepherd, is peaceful (Psalm 23). It seeks to settle the sheep and lead them by “still waters.” Constant change implemented through the leadership of the pastor unnecessarily agitates the sheep. Trust me.

4.            Being an Evangelist, Exhorter, and Encourager.

Not surprisingly, effective pastoral ministry has much to do with how we use our tongues. We have an unbelievable opportunity to speak for God. With this privilege, however, we will also have greater judgment (James 3:1). The pastor is supposed to place himself under accountability to “do the work of an evangelist” (II Timothy 4:5).  We are to habitually proclaim the Gospel from the pulpit as well as to be involved in personal evangelism.  A pastor’s effectiveness will also be greatly proportionate to his ability to compassionately confront members of the flock who are living in sinful activities or attitudes (II Timothy 4:2; 2:24; Titus 3:10). 

5.            Equipping Others for the Work of the Ministry.

Discipleship is somewhat of a constant delegation of spiritual truth and responsibility. Pastors are supposed to “entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (II Timothy 2:2b). We are to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). Pastoral ministry that monopolizes ministry discourages the saints and demeans the value of other spiritual gifts. No, they won’t do it “just like us”; that’s “ok”!

6.            Practicing Biblical Ethics in Ministry.

There is no successful way for us to separate who we are and what we preach. The man and the message are organically intertwined, aren’t they? The pastor’s personal morality, financial integrity, sermon originality, ministerial methodology, as well as his handling of “transfer growth” from other churches, are all part of the essential makeup of the man.  We should, like the Apostle Paul, be able to appeal to our integrity and transparency in every ethical category (I Thessalonians 2:3-12; II Corinthians 4:1-2).

7.            He is Energized for Gospel Ministry and Discipleship.

Look at a few words that describe the attitudinal approach we should have to effective pastoral ministry:

·    “willingly” (I Peter 5:2)
·    “eagerly” (I Peter 5:2)
·    “desiringly” (I Timothy 3:1)
·    “energetically” (Colossians 1:28-29)

Effective pastoral ministry “strives according to his working, which works in me mightily” (Colossians. 1:29). There should be a supernatural energy that animates a pastor in Gospel ministry and discipleship.

“And when the chief Shepherd shall appear . . . .” I Peter 5:4

P.S. I was given this prayer below recently. I am not sure of the author so I am not able to give credit. Would you consider praying this for your pastor as he seeks to become an imitator of the chief Shepherd?

  Father, thank you for the chief Shepherd, Jesus. Thank you that you included me as one of your sheep because of Jesus’ sacrifice.  Thank you for our shepherd-pastors here at Trinity Baptist Church. Help them in their study of your Word this week and as they prepare in different ways. Give them surrendered hearts and thinking minds. Help their hearts to be renewed and warmed by the truths of the Cross. If they are under the weight of harmful criticism or sharp attack, help them to find their identity in Your acceptance in Gospel grace. Keep them focused on the Gospel and may they have freedom by the Spirit as they stand and deliver your Word this week. May they be compassionate and gentle and yet bold and courageous.

 Jesus, help me to be a prepared and Spirit-led listener of your Word as they preach. Keep my mind clear and my heart focused. Help me to fight distractions of every kind. May the message not only lodge in my mind like filed-away information, but may your grace affect my heart. Help me not to be a “sermon sampler” but a doer of your Word. Help me not to become so enamored with the performing of Christian duties, or just being “busy,” that I lose sight of the Savior Himself.

  And Father, keep our pastors’  lives pure and blameless from the defilements of the world. Help them to fight and flee temptation. I pray the armor of God on our pastors lest when they themselves have preached to others they would be castaways.

 And God I pray that when the day comes that my pastors will give an account of me, that they would be able to do so joyfully. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Our Ministry Blueprint

How will you choose the local church that you will attend? There are plenty of options. If you are already a member of a local assembly, why did you choose the one that you did? With over 3,000 denominations to choose from, what will most influence your decision? A good number of folks will make their decisions on the basis of some of the following characteristics of a local church:

            Traditional or contemporary worship
            Clean and safe nurseries
            Age of the congregation
            Size and appearance of facilities
            Association with authors, colleges, mission agencies, and Christian camps
            Friendliness of the people and pastor(s)
            Social/political involvement
            Likeminded with a secondary, non-essential issue(s)
            Casual or formal dress
            Children’s and youth programs
            Bible version used
            Community involvement

Jesus said, “I will build my church, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  Jesus is indeed building His church. Each local church and its leadership are privileged to partner with Jesus as He builds His church! It is vital then, for a Christian, prior to becoming a member of a local church, to be confident that the blueprint that is being followed in constructing that local church is the inspired, Spirit-issued blueprint rather than a man-made sketch. So, what does the church that Jesus is building look like?

There is actually a paragraph (one long, 124-word sentence in the original language) found in Ephesians 4:11-16 that lays out Christ’s ideal blueprint for the church. Would you be content with a church like this one? Or do you have something else in mind?

This is the first of a series of articles containing the ministry philosophy of Trinity Baptist Church. Philosophy is essentially, “why we do what we do.” In this first one, Our Ministry Blueprint, you will see the large, non-negotiable, load-bearing walls that are birthed from the inspired blueprint of Ephesians 4:11-16. In the following articles, you will see these principles worked out and fleshed out in the major ministries of Trinity Baptist Church. 

Doxology: “Amen to God for His Glory”

The refrain to the opening hymn found in the first chapter of Ephesians is “to the praise of his glorious grace.”  The existence of the church, the growth of the church, the maturity of the church, the worship and functions of the church, are all intended to bring glory, honor, and praise to God.

            For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving to the glory of God (II Corinthians 4:15).

Trinity Baptist Church is therefore to be a vertical church that seeks to glorify God while at the same time renouncing horizontal, man-centered, manipulative ministry practices (II Corinthians 4:2). We believe that all Christians and churches are to be motivated by this doxological focus (I Corinthians 10:31; II Corinthians 1:20).  In addition, God’s glory is also the measurement of the “success” for all ministries rather than numerical statistics or man’s personal pleasure.

Jesus Christ, the Chief Cornerstone

The subject of this glorious, run-on sentence found in Ephesians 4:11-16 declares that the blueprint of the church is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the antecedent of the “he” found in verse 11. Jesus is building His church and He is the chief cornerstone.

            For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 3:11).

The passage in Ephesians 4:11-16 keeps Christ as its center by referring to “the body of Christ” (v. 12), “the knowledge of the Son of God” (v. 13a), “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (v. 13b), and “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (v. 15). The ideal church keeps Jesus Christ’s person and work as its center. A New Testament Church, therefore, should be Christ-centered and Gospel-centered.  Jesus declared His Person and Work to be the theme of the Scriptures (Luke 24:27).  Trinity Baptist Church sings, prays, teaches, and practices in the ordinances, and teaches, and preaches the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.  “Sirs, we would see Jesus!” Our primary focus is not to proclaim our positions or our denomination, but rather our Wonderful Savior and the Good News of His saving work.

Sola Scriptura

The blueprint of the church prescribes that believers who make up that local body are to be built up through the verbal leadership (v. 14) “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine.” Sola Scriptura is the principle clarified during the Reformation that declares that the Scriptures are completely sufficient for spiritual matters and is our supreme authority for “faith and practice.”  Our belief in the sufficiency of the Scriptures regulates our counseling, preaching, worship, and view of Christian tradition.  “What say the Scriptures?” will be the regular inquiry of the members and leadership of Trinity Baptist Church.  This is in contrast (not necessarily in contradiction) to the question, “What have we done for 30 years?” Allowing the Scriptures to be the sole sieve for ministry practice will cause our church to be in a constant state of spiritual growth and transformation (II Corinthians 3:18).

Mission: “Love God. Love Others. Make Disciples.

What is the church supposed to be doing? What is her assignment? Ephesians 4:11-16 anticipates that the church will have a love for Christ, her Head, and for each member of the body, thus obeying the Great Commandment (Matthew 22: 37-40) of loving God and loving others.  In addition, there is an expectation disciples making disciples (literally “students”) will be the assignment of every believer as they do the “work of the ministry.” Christ’s last instructions to His disciples, often referred to as “The Great Commission,” were for them to “make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20).  This mission of sharing the Gospel and making disciples was never understood by the early church to be simply a command to the Apostles (Acts 8:1-4).  Combining the Great Commandment and the Great Commission helps define our church’s mission: Love God. Love Others. Make Disciples.

Spiritual and Truthful Worship

Ephesians paints the church as a Spirit-filled, vibrant, worshipping church (Ephesians 1; 5:18-20). One of the contrasts and comparisons that the writer of Hebrews uses between the Old and New Covenants is the vibrancy of the church’s worship (Hebrews 12:25-29). Jesus stated that “truthful” and “spiritual” worship pleases the Father (John 4:23).  The blueprint for the church includes spiritual, truthful worship. That worship must be thoroughly saturated and infused with Truth. In addition, our worship must not be ritualistic, heartless, nor perfunctory, but rather heartfelt, affirming, joyful, loud, and vibrant.  Biblical worship will inform the mind with truth and stir the affections of the heart.

Meaningful Church Membership

This ideal of Christ’s church found in Ephesians 4 pictures the members in active service, accountability, and fellowship with the other members of the body. Spiritual authority and accountability cannot be enjoyed outside of the clear commitment and covenant of local church membership. Outside of making the commitment to submitting to authority of spiritual leadership, serving with your spiritual gifts, attending the Lord’s Day gatherings, and supporting financially through church membership, a Christian cannot enjoy the mutual commitment and body dynamics described in Ephesians 4:11-16. In addition, not submitting and committing to local church membership prevents pastors from knowing whose souls they are accountable for (Hebrews 13:17). We have a six-week Starting Point class that we ask all regular attendees to take as they move towards church membership.

Without Spot or Wrinkle: A Pure Church

Jesus’ goal for His Bride, the church, is that she might be “without spot or wrinkle.” This is the grand purpose of our predestination and redemption (Ephesians 1:4). The primary cleansing agent is the Scriptures (Ephesians 5:26). The church, in addition, is to through church discipline separate herself from members who live in unrepentant sin. There are three broad categories of church discipline that the church is responsible for: doctrinal error (I Timothy 1:20; Jude 3; Titus 1:9); disobedience or disorderly conduct (I Corinthians 5:1-13; II Thessalonians 3:6-15); and finally, a divisive person (Titus 3:10; Romans 16:17).  These same categories inform us in our approach to knowing when to separate from other churches or ministries.

Can you live with a church like this? These are the “load-bearing” walls of our ministry house that is built according to Jesus’ blueprint. Now, inside every house there are non-load-bearing walls, windows, countertops, and furnishings that make that particular house somewhat unique. Non-load-bearing walls, countertops, window dressings, and furnishings can be changed without consequence; they are matters of taste. However, remove a load-bearing wall and you have a collapse of the structure. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Slippery Slopes, Boiling Frogs & Camels' Noses

A Parade of Imagined Horribles

I enjoy the DirectTV advertisements, “Get Rid of Cable.” (Have you seen any of them?) All of the commercials begin with a cable customer having a problem with his cable service. Each time the irritated customer’s negative reaction devolves down a slippery slope of wildly illogical and bizarre consequences. The premise of each advertisement is that having cable will inevitably lead to misery and self-destruction. For instance, one of the commercials begins as a bored cable customer waits for the cable repairman. In his boredom, he looks out the window and witnesses a dead body being placed in the trunk of a car. In apparent fear for his life, he attempts to vanish in order to get away from the criminals who saw him looking out his window. In his scheme to flee, he fakes his own death, dyes his hair and eyebrows blonde and attends his own funeral as a man named “Phil Shifley.” The commercial ends with, “you don’t want to attend your own funeral as a man named Phil Shifley, get rid of cable.”  The commercials are hilarious because of their employment of the logical fallacy called slippery slope.

Slippery-slope arguments assume that one choice automatically cascades into a domino of worse choices that ultimately results in a destructive, objectionable end.  Other popular metaphors of the slippery slope are “the boiling frog” and the “camel’s nose.”[1] The slippery slope argument goes something like this:

If you do the first thing,
It will lead to the second thing.
Which will eventually lead to a bad thing.
So, don’t do the first thing.

This debate technique is categorized as a logical fallacy along with other fallacies like begging the question, appeal to authority, etc., because of two weaknesses: 1) lack of evidence of the automatic sequence of one choice leading to another and 2) a lack of proof that the last choice is actually objectionable or wrong.
Now, slippery-slope warnings are included in Scripture and they are anything but fallacies; they are Spirit-breathed truth that must be heeded.  James 1:15 gives us a slippery-slope warning: “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Solomon warns of the slippery slope of laziness (Proverbs 24:33-34). Paul adds to the warnings with the slippery slope of “sowing to the flesh” (Galatians 6:8a).  In addition, Jesus warned about the slippery slope of the doctrine of the Pharisees (Matthew 23:15).

The Scriptures warn us that one sin can indeed lead to another sin. But, as I see it, the slippery slope argument is being used today mostly about debatable things. So, rather than reflecting the Scripture’s warnings of one sin leading to another sin, the slippery slope warning is being used to claim that debatable things automatically lead to sinful choices.

Recognizing some of the characteristics of scripturally valid “slippery slope” warnings will serve us well. We will be vaccinated from prematurely sounding false alarms. Such a sieve will also assist us in evaluating warnings and concerns that we receive from other believers.

The reason for this post is a concern that the fallacious version of the slippery slope is being used as a hurtful weapon in the family of God. From my perspective, there seems to be an increasing amount of hurried, haphazard insinuations about ministers and ministries of being on the slippery slope of compromise without any biblical, loving, due process. Seemingly without trial or jury, a believer can warn of another believer’s slippery-slope tendencies and it is embraced as truth. Understand, my issue is not with prayerful spiritual discernment, but rather with this unfounded suspicious divisiveness.  I believe this needless splintering and dividing over (for example) differences with applications of secondary or tertiary separation, uses of certain technology in worship, sources of congregational music, views regarding traditional service formats, etc. are fallacious slippery slopes. 

Below are some consequences from our failing to take pause before sounding-out hasty, suspicious warnings about other believers or ministries.

·      We project our own personal weaknesses and proclivities onto others.  I suggest that we violate the spirit of Romans 14 whenever we assume that because we are weak in faith in a particular area, everyone else must be as well. What may be a slippery slope for me, may be something done in faith and “unto the Lord” by someone else.

·      We practically “muddy” the sufficiency of the Spirit and the Scriptures for moral and ethical formation. As a saint perseveres in their faith, the Spirit and the Word will give them all sufficiency for faith and practice. Erecting warning signs at every perceived slope effectively denies a believer the privilege to “exercise their senses to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). In things indifferent, we are to help our people learn how to think rather than teaching them exactly what to think. That is truly being skilled in the Word. Dr. David Doran brings clarity to this point here.

·      We draw extra biblical lines in the sand that divide us so severely that we lose ministry opportunities in the future. How do we react when someone we have warned of a slippery slope fails to heed our warnings? Do we view them as having been irretrievably lost? By venturing over our self-designated slippery slope have they now gone the way of the world?

·      We call “sin” what God has left in the “debatable” category.  It’s important for us to remember that every activity in life and ministry has not been categorized as “right” or “wrong” in God’s Word. Some areas have been left in the debatable category. That is not to say that God is indifferent about any of our choices. He most certainly is not (Romans 12:2b)!  But like the Pharisees who attempted to fence in the law, we must be careful not to “teach for doctrine the commandments of men” and bind consciences.

·      We use fear rather than grace as the primary motivator for sanctification. There are a variety of scriptural motivations for living a holy, separated life. One of those is a reverential fear and awe of God: “Those that fear the Lord depart from evil.”  Yet, we must take care about “crying wolf” about the consequences of ignoring our slippery-slope warnings. Grace should be the primary tutor for teaching us “to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and that we should live soberly and righteously in this present world.”

·      In the setting of a local church, we effectively make a charge against an elder. As we noticed, valid, biblical slippery slopes always involve sin. Making an accusation of a church’s slippery slope is an accusation against the elders of that ministry. Participating in feeding a sense of distrust in the hearts of sheep towards their under-shepherds is a grievous sin.

·      Such premature warnings often lead us to un-Scriptural separation and needless division. Divisions, separations, and the parting-of-ways are unfortunately necessary at times before we all join together in united chorus around the throne. However, we search the New Testament in vain in order to find a prescribed separation that is to be done clandestinely without biblical due process.  Rather, we should give diligence to maintain unity (Ephesians 4:3; Philippians 1:27). In addition, there is a clear due process for dealing with conflicts (Galatians 6:1; Matthew 18:15-20; Titus 3:10; II John 11).

·      In our zeal we actually teeter on the slippery slope of externalism and legalism. Often were the warnings our Lord gave about cleaning the outside of the cup while ignoring the inner man. Zealously fighting, fencing, and protecting our slippery slopes can unwittingly lead us down the other side of the slope. The warnings of Christ about that slick side of the slippery slope outnumber the other warnings.

Hopefully, such concerns will not be misconstrued as defending a cavalier, libertine approach to debatable issues. May such an equally dangerous and debilitating approach be avoided. “Let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he falls.” “Flee youthful lusts.” “Avoid all appearances of evil.” “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” But, that was not the burden of this post.  

To conclude, I believe we are doing damage to the flock of God by “answering matters before we hear them.” We hurt the cause of Christ when we slander and judge motives, while at the same time attempting to justify our unbiblical separations. We flagrantly agitate and frighten sheep in local folds by spreading suspicion. Further, we violate the Scriptures by writing off Christian brothers and sisters without practicing the biblical due process of loving, truthful confrontation and exhortation.

The fallacy of the slippery slope is working fantastically for DirecTV. 

The fallacy of the slippery slope is producing fractures in the Body of Christ.

[1] “Boiling Frogs”-Gradual temperatures go undetected until the frog expires in boiling water. “Camel’s Nose-Legend that a camel asked to warm his nose in a nomad’s tent. He ended up taking over the tent and pushing the tent-dweller out into the cold.