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Assembling Together

(15 posts) Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. —Hebrews 10:23–25

Do You Belong?

Friday··2008·06·20 · 2 Comments
Can one belong to the church without belonging to a church? Not likely, says Mark Dever. Sometimes theologians refer to a distinction between the universal church (all Christians everywhere throughout history) and the local church (those people who meet down the street from you to hear the Word preached to and to practice baptism and the Lord’s Supper). Other than a few references to the universal church (such as Matt. 16:18 and the bulk of Ephesians), most references to the church in the New Testament are to local churches, as when Paul writes, “To the church of God in Corinth” or “To the churches in Galatia.” Now what follows is a little intense, but it’s important. The relationship between our membership in the universal church and our membership in the local church is a lot like the relationship between the righteousness God gives us through faith and the actual practice of righteousness in our daily lives. When we become Christians by faith, God declares us righteous. Yet we are still called to activity be righteous. A person who happily goes on living in unrighteousness calls into question whether he ever possessed Christ’s righteousness in the first place (see Rom. 6:1–18; 8:5–14; James 2:14–15). So, too, it is with those who refuse to commit themselves to a local church. Committing to a local body is the natural outcome—it confirms what Christ has done. If you have no interest in actually committing yourself to an actual group of gospel-believing, Bible-teaching Christians, you might question whether you belong to the body of Christ at all! Listen to the author of Hebrews carefully: Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. (Heb. 10:23–27)Our state before God, if authentic, will translate into our daily decisions, even if the process is slow and full of missteps. God really does change his people. Isn’t that good news? So please, friend, don’t grow complacent through some vague idea that you possess the righteousness of Christ if you’re not pursuing a life of righteousness. Likewise, please do not be deceived by a vague conception of a universal church to which you belong if you’re not pursuing that life together with an actual church. —Mark Dever, What Is a Healthy Church? (Crossway, 2007), 21–22.

The Flawed Church

Monday··2008·06·23 · 2 Comments
My church isn’t perfect. I could write a medium-sized post listing the improvements I’d like to see. How about you? Does your church fall short of your expectations? Mark Dever has a word for us: Does a particular church fail to meet your expectations in terms of what it does, as in whether or not it follows what the Bible says about church leadership? If so, remember that this is a group of people who are still growing in grace. Love them. Serve them. Be patient with them. Again, think of a family. Whenever your parents, siblings, or children fail to meet your expectations, do you suddenly throw them out of the family? I hope you are forgive and are patient with them. You might even stop to consider whether it’s your expectations that should be adjusted! By this same token, we should ask ourselves whether we know how to love and persevere with church members who have different opinions, who fail to meet our expectations, or even who sin against us. (Don’t you and I have sin that ever needs to be forgiven?) —Mark Dever, What Is a Healthy Church? (Crossway, 2007), 36.

The Idolatry of Love

The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love by Jonathan Leeman has so far proven to be a challenge. Not that it is difficult reading—it definitely is not. It is challenging in that it forces thought, and not just passive “that’s interesting” thought, but thought that necessarily draws conclusions—conclusions with which the reader may or may not be comfortable; conclusions that will incite passion in one way or another. This is a book not to just read, but to study and meditate upon. Read this book; put copies in the hands of your pastors (which I did, and am now reading it myself at his recommendation). I’ve decided to take a different approach to blogging this book than I have with others. The chapters are long and dense, and deserve more attention than just a few comments on a pithy excerpt. So I’ve taken notes on Chapter One and present them here, under Leeman’s own headings, as my summary. The headings are as you would find them in the book; the body text is my summary. Anything in quotation marks is, as you might guess, a direct quote. The length is ridiculous for a blog post, I know, but I think I did well to condense thirty-five pages into about 2,000 words. Chapter One The Idolatry of Love Main Question: How do our common cultural conceptions of love today hinder our acceptance of church membership and discipline? Main Answer: We have made love into an idol that serves us and so have redefined love into something that never imposes judgments, conditions, or binding attachments. Step 1: Doing a doctrine of the church requires us to consider our cultural baggage. The Risky Business of Ecclesiology Leeman explains why building an ecclesiology for the church is more hazardous than codifying other doctrines. Discussions of ecclesiology, more than any other, can bring to the surface our personal ambitions and vain conceit. Ecclesiology involves such volatile decisions as who will receive baptism and be allowed at the Lord’s Table. Ecclesiology is especially vulnerable to attachment to our cultural baggage. We are prone to applying our civic politics and business ethics to our view of the church. A Culturally Counterintuitive Proposal Our ideas about love are more idolatrous than we realize. Western culture instinctively resists structures, boundaries, and exclusivism. Romantic notions of love tell us that conditions and borders are unloving. Leeman writes, “The one boundary most people agree upon these days is the boundary keeping boundary makers out!” Step 2: Individualism has left us detached, which sends us searching for a love that makes us feel complete. We want churches to do the same. Individualism Western heroes, historical and fictional (e.g., Benjamin Franklin, Indiana Jones), all fit the individualist mold. Every Attachment Is Negotiable “We are all free agents, and every relationship and life station is a contract that can be renegotiated or canceled, [including our relationship to] the local church.” Choices are predominantly subject to the obligation to self, personal happiness and advantage. “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to dissolve the bands which have connected me to others, I dissolve them.” Individualism and Love The growth of individualism has caused a shift in our definition of love. Whereas love was once thought of primarily as compassion, individualism has emphasized romantic love, or simple passion. Romantic Love Versus Biblical Love Romantic love is not entirely unbiblical (see Song of Songs). But the romance of the Bible differs from that which grew out of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in that the modern romantic lover’s “absolute moral reference was an exclusive fidelity to the love relationship and its maximization. . . . the romantic lover finds his or her souls completion in the other. In love!” This finding what can only be found in God is what makes love idolatrous. And when love is all about self-fulfillment, it must also become undiscerning and nonjudgmental. “So Americans tend to describe churches as ’loving’ when those churches make us feel relaxed and comfortable, not judged.” Self-Expressive Love in Churches With this individualistic, self-fulfilling view of love comes an individualistic, self-expressive view of worship. So “song lyrics do not so much present an opportunity to meditate on God’s love for sinners . . . but on repeated expressions of the sinner’s love for God. Sunday school classes and other church groups will divide into homogeneous units with shared life experience, rather than the old seeking to disciple the young, and the young valuing and desiring discipleship from the old. Preaching becomes group counseling on the felt needs of the congregation. The gospel becomes therapy. Step 3: Consumerism has caused us to focus on the desirability of the object of love, rather than the process of loving. We view churches as products which satisfy us or not. Consumerism This section examines “three aspects of individualism: consumerism, a fear of commitment, and a skepticism toward all dogma.” Consumerism assumes exchange. That, in itself is not a problem; salvation is an exchange: our sin for Christ’s righteousness. The problem with consumerism is that it secularizes the exchange. “It’s about exchanging something in this world for something else in this world. We seek our peace and rest and shalom and joy in this world or in this age.” In a secularized, consumeristic exchange, what is lost is the knowledge that the heart is the first thing that must be exchanged—a heart of stone for a heart of flesh. A consumeristic mindset does not examine whether appetites are directed toward right desires. Consumerism and Love When we make material, financial exchanges, we can hardly claim to be motivated by love for the buyer/seller with whom we are dealing. We simply try to make the most advantageous exchange we can for ourselves. When consumerism steps into the territory of love, the focus shifts from love itself to the object of love, and the value of the exchange in the love relationship. “We are more concerned about who loves us than we are about loving.” It is all about getting, not giving. Consumeristic Love in Churches “When pastors fail to teach Christians that the problem of love begins with the faculty to love rather than with the various objects of love, the critical faculties that Christians develop in the shopping mall transfer to their church lives.” They judge the music, the preaching, the people around them, etc., according to how well they are served by them. “They judge the church rather than letting God’s word judge them. In all this they utterly fail to recognize that they are not loving their neighbor as themselves.” Rather than correct such sinful attitudes, savvy church leaders learn to exploit them to yield the desired statistics. “Virtues like holiness, self-sacrifice, and faith can’t be counted, so never mind. As Mark Dever has said, statistical figures are worshipped more than carved ones.” Step 4: Commitment phobia takes commitment out of love and love becomes about what’s advantageous to me. The idea of commitment is removed from our view of churches. Commitment Phobia “The drive to pursue happiness in the negotiations and renegotiations of our various contracts means making sure that no contract is too binding.” Americans no longer join clubs, associations, and civic groups as they have in the past. Rather than join organizations that ask for hand-on involvement, they prefer to support groups that require nothing more than payment of a membership fee. Marriage is down, cohabitation and divorce are up. Commitment Phobia and Love Lack of commitment turns love relationships into present-only exchanges. As long as the benefits and advantages measure up to expectations, the relationship continues. The future remains to be seen. Commitment-less Love in Churches “When the idea of a binding commitment is removed from the definition of love, churches become places where personal sacrifices are seldom made, so the gospel is seldom pictured.” Christians move from one church to another lightly, with no thoughts about the consequences to others. After all, there is no responsibility involved, is there? Sadly, many of these church-hoppers are only following the examples of many pastors who come, stay a few years, and leave. If the shepherd makes no long-term commitment to the flock, why should individual sheep feel any obligation? This weakens the connection between doctrine and practice. While professing to believe the gospel, commitments made—or rather, not made—do anything but demonstrate the gospel. “Their symbolic burial and resurrection from the waters of baptism indicate that they mean to take up their cross and follow their Lord, but the very ethic of their commitment-less love does not provide them with the opportunity to fulfill these professions with their actions.” Step 5: Skepticism removes all judgment from love, causing us to expect unconditional acceptance from churches. Pragmatism also results. Skepticism Another outgrowth of individualism is a skepticism toward doctrine, an especially any absolute truth claims. Doctrines are retained or discarded based upon their utilitarian value to the goals of the individual. Skepticism and Love When love is separated from truth, love is defined as unconditional acceptance. The opposite of love, then is judgmentalism., intolerance, and exclusivism. Love requires you to “accept me as I am, and tolerate whatever I say or think without condemning it . . . and affirming my lifestyle decisions as legitimate and good.” Unconditional Acceptance in Churches The evangelical call today, in the name of love, is to emphasize orthopraxy over orthodoxy. This results in a religion of emotion; intellectual objectivity has been banished. The objective What has God said? is replaced with the subjective What is God saying to you? The Inevitability of Pragmatism Pragmatism is the inevitable result when doctrine and boundaries are tossed out. Superficial measurable results become the test practice. The legitimacy of methods is measured by that which can be seen, rather than being faithful to the Word and trusting God to produce true spiritual fruit, which is largely unseen. Ironically, pragmatism may be accompanied by a pseudo-spirituality, an emphasis on the leading of the Spirit. Sadly, following the Spirit as we know he leads through Scripture is not in view. This is all about Experiencing God-style subjectivity. Connecting the Dots The connection between all these cultural values and an unwillingness to commit and submit to a local congregation should be obvious. We are self-serving, independent individuals, whose real and fictional heroes are rugged, self-sufficient individuals (e.g., Indiana Jones. In a culture in which love is inseparable from freedom, commitment and submission just don’t compute. Step 6: But what is individualism really? It’s a hatred of authority. And behind the hatred of authority is a diminished God. The Root Problem After all that has been said about individualism, Leeman admits that many opponents of the institutional church are committed communitarians who are “committed not to free agency but to a relational concept of the human being. The believe that human peace, meaningfulness, and joy can be found only in community.” Communitarianism “. . . the postmodern and communitarian reaction against modernistic individualism remains derivative of that individualism . . . The postmodern self may be socially constituted and delimited . . . but within his limitations no authority exists to stay his hand or say to him, ’What have you done?’ He can come and go as he pleases, invoking this or that group membership according to whim.” Anti-Authority-ism Communitarianism is not the antidote to individualism, because the real problem is not individualism; the real problem is anti-authority-ism. “The solution . . . is to reintroduce the conception of submission to God’s revealed will as it’s located in the local church.” Authority in Churches That authority is unpopular in the church is plainly seen in the debates over everything from the role of women in the church and home to the sovereignty of God over history and salvation. “The ideas of love and authority remain almost wholly at odds.” Evidence of this is found in the preponderance of therapeutic preaching rather than expositional preaching, which demonstrates a recognition of “God’s intention to employ authoritative pronouncements through human mediators in our life and growth as Christians [and] that Christ enters the Christian’s life with the authority of a king who commands repentance and obedience. So the church gathers to hear what the king has authoritatively said in his Word.” Rather than expound the Scriptures, and risk running into anything demanding, shepherds scratch the sheep where they itch. Secularizing the Idea of Disobedience By “secularizing,” Leeman means replacing sin with inoffensive euphemisms, e.g., insecurity=fear of man, consumerism=greed. “We shouldn’t address insecurity by pointing to its opposite—self-confidence; we should talk about the fear of God.” We should address consumerism by talking “about the things that have supplanted God as an object of worship.” Individualism is the secular euphemism for hatred of authority. It is not, as some say, a failure or fear of relationship. It is, rather, a rejection of a particular kind of relationship, one that requires obedience. A Diminished God The communitarian emphasis on relationship and ambivalence toward authority leaves us with a diminished God. “The wages of sin is death not just because our sin breaks our relationship with God, [but] because it offends against his glorious, beautiful, holy, resplendent majesty! . . . because God’s glory is weighty and infinite, and we have fallen short of it.” Step 7: Church membership, then, begins with repentance. Repentance “If the root problem in our culture and in our churches is anti-authority-ism and the despising of God’s glory, then the solution is not simply joining community and making relationships; the solution is repentance. It’s a changing of heart and direction. This repentance includes . . . joining a particular kind of community where self is no longer sovereign and where one is called to obedience to others as an expression of obedience to God. It’s the joining of a community where worship of God is supreme in everything. . . . submitting to a local church and becoming a member is an external enactment of what it means to submit to Christ and become a member of his body. It’s keeping the imperative of what Christ has accomplished in the indicative. Submitting to a local church on earth, in the language of Christian ethics, is a becoming of what we are in heaven.” Conclusion The spirit of the age rebels against boundaries and limits, so God and his love have been redefined so that there are none. “This idol called love” commands us to live and let live, without expectations, limits, or judgment.

The Idolatry of Love: My Thoughts

Last week, I posted my summary of the first chapter of The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love by Jonathan Leeman. Today, I offer something of lesser value: my own impressions. And unlike my summary, I’ll keep this short. Leeman nails American Christians—and any others who share American ideals—right where it hurts: in our independent, self-sufficient, self-serving selves. Dragging our American ideals into the church, we have polluted our faith. If Leeman’s analysis is correct, American churches and Christians have a lot of repenting to do. And we have a lot to learn about who God is, what biblical love is, what the church is, and what it means to be a part of it. The attitude of many in confessing evangelical churches toward the church indicates that they don’t love the Lord with all their hearts, or their neighbors as themselves. It indicates that there are probably a lot more tares among the wheat than even a cynic like me suspects. Therefore, a correct doctrine and practice of church membership and discipline is far from secondary. It is absolutely essential to the purity of the church and to the gospel itself.

Hymns of My Youth: Father, Again in Jesus’ Name We Meet

I can’t think of a more appropriate hymn with which to open worship on the Lord’s Day: 37 Father, Again in Jesus’ Name We Meet Father, again in Jesus’ name we meet, And bow in penitence beneath Thy feet; Again to Thee our feeble voices raise, To sue for mercy, and to sing Thy praise. O we would bless Thee for Thy ceaseless care, And all Thy works from day to day declare; Is not our life with hourly mercies crowned? Does not Thine arm encircle us around? Alas, unworthy of Thy boundless love, Too oft with careless feet from Thee we rove; But now, encouraged by Thy voice, we come, Returning sinners to a Father’s home. O by that Name in Whom all fulness dwells, O by that love which ev’ry love excels, O by that blood so freely shed for sin, Open, blest mercy’s gate and take us in. —The Concordia Hymnal (Augsburg Publishing House, 1960).

The Wife of Her Husband

Here’s a good article from 9Marks for potential pastors: Is She Up for This? Questions for a Potential Pastor’s Wife. Included is an important “word to the church”: When a church hires a pastor, the church hires a pastor, not the pastor and his wife. Granted, she is going to be a member of the church and will serve in the church like other members. But the Bible does not provide a specific job description for an elder’s wife. So resist the urge to place additional expectations on her. Her primary responsibility is not to organize the annual mother-daughter tea, VBS, or the ladies retreat. It is to be the wife of her husband and to be his helper. That is a major responsibility. Elders’ wives are critical to helping their husbands manage their households well, and to help him providing hospitality for members in the congregation as seasons permit. The fact that a woman’s husband is in the ministry does not mean that she has more time; she probably has less. In other words, don’t ask a pastoral candidate if his wife plays the piano.

Knowing versus Feeling

Alistair Begg speaks my mind (and describes me on a Sunday morning): Knowing versus Feeling in Worship

Splinters and Fragments

Thursday··2014·05·22 · 2 Comments
Here is my unpopular opinion for the week. I don’t like women’s Bible studies. I don’t like men’s Bible studies, either. I really don’t care for any modifier-added Bible study. It’s not just because they tend to focus narrowly on group-specific topics, losing the wider context of “the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27), and tend to drift into silliness and even heresy,* nor is it just because they are often not led by qualified teachers.† I know I risk of sounding like an old fogey longing for the good old days, but just as the past may not have been as good as remembered, the present isn’t so new and improved—and this is one example of the old days actually being better days. I remember a time when Wednesday was Bible study night, and everyone came and studied together under pastoral leadership. Now it’s a men’s study here, a women’s study there; here a small group, there a young adults class, everywhere a seniors group; Old MacDonald split his church, E-I-E-I-O. In the name of meeting specific needs—which, I’m afraid, really means catering to special interests—many churches are splintered into so many segments that they look more like collections of amputated limbs than whole bodies. I’m not pushing for the full family-integrated program, although I think it has a lot to teach us about being a body. Neither am I pushing for Wednesday night; an adult class on Sunday morning will serve just fine. But how is the church to function as a body when every part goes off in its own direction, only coming together for the formal‡ Lord’s Day worship service? Surely there are good reasons for men to gather with men, and women with women. But if those gatherings replace the integrated Elder-led Bible study, or in any way contribute to the fragmenting of the body, I’d rather see them abandoned entirely. * e.g., Wild at Heart, Beth Moore, etc. † Not every group has to be taught by an Elder, but active pastoral oversight is essential. ‡ Yes, it should be formal, and yes, it should be dominated by preaching, and no, it’s not the time for dialogue.

Examine Yourself (4)

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. —1 Corinthians 11:27–29 Participation in the Lord’s Table requires love—love for Christ, and love for his body. Examine thy love. The primitive Christians kissed each other at the supper, which they called Oscidum pacis, A kiss of peace. They had their ‘feasts of charity,’ Jude 12. ‘The bread which we eat, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?’ As the bread is made of many grains, and the cup of wine of many grapes united, so is the body of Christ of many members, united under one head. Eating together was ever a sign of love and friendship. Joseph hereby shewed his love to his brethren. . . . Now, reader, what love-fire hast thou for this love-feast? Dost thou love the brethren as brethren, because they are related to God, and because they have the image of God? Or dost thou love them only for the natural qualities in them, and their courtesy to thee? This fire I must tell thee is kitchen fire, which must be fed with such coarse fuel; the former only is the fire which is taken from God’s altar. Dost thou love Christ in a cottage as well as in a court? Dost thou love a poor as well as a rich Christian? Dost thou love grace in rags as much as grace in robes? Is it their honour or their holiness which thou dost admire? —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:185

Lord’s Day 48, 2014

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. —Hebrews 10:19–25 Hymn LXX. A welcome to christian friends. John Newton (1726–1807) Kindred in Christ, for his dear sake, A hearty welcome here receive; May we together now partake The joys which only he can give! To you and us by grace ’tis giv’n, To know the Savior’s precious name; And shortly we shall meet in heav’n, Our hope, our way, our end, the same. May he, by whose kind care we meet, Send his good Spirit from above, Make our communications sweet, And cause our hearts to burn with love! Forgotten be each worldly theme, When christians see each other thus; We only wish to speak of him, Who lived, and dy’d, and reigns for us. We’ll talk of all he did and said, And suffer’d for us here below; The path he mark’d for us to tread, And what he’s doing for us now. Thus, as the moments pass away, We’ll love, and wonder, and adore; And hasten on the glorious day, When we shall meet to part no more. —Olney Hymns. Book II: On Occasional Subjects. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Please don’t miss worshiping with your local congregation if you can possibly help it. But if you’re in need of a good sermon, try these. Tweets about "sermon from:thethirstytheo" !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+"://";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");

Lord’s Day 1, 2016

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. —John 10:14–15 Hymn LXXI. At Parting. John Newton (1726–1807) As the sun’s enliv’ning eye Shines on ev’ry place the same; So the Lord is always nigh To the souls that love his name. When they move at duty’s call, He is with them by the way; He is ever with them all, Those who go, and those who stay. From his holy mercy-seat Nothing can their souls confine; Still in spirit they may meet, And in sweet communion join. For a season call’d to part, Let us then ourselves commend To the gracious eye and heart, Of our ever-present Friend. Jesus, hear our humble pray’r! Tender Shepherd of thy sheep! Let thy mercy and thy care All our souls in safety keep. In thy strength may we be strong, Sweeten ev’ry cross and pain; Give us, if we live, ere long Here to meet in peace again. Then, if thou thy help afford, Ebenezers shall be rear’d; And our souls shall praise the Lord Who our poor petitions heard. —Olney Hymns. Book II: On Occasional Subjects. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Please don’t miss worshiping with your local congregation if you can possibly help it. But if you’re in need of a good sermon, try these. Tweets about "sermon from:thethirstytheo" !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+"://";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");

On the Lord’s Day

I am an oddball. I know it, and if you know me at all, you know it. I’ve always been something of a social misfit, a square peg in a round hole. My interests are eccentric and sometimes esoteric; it’s likely that you and I have little in common. In spite of all that, I can go anywhere, be it Africa, China, or even (God preserve me) California, and, if I can find a congregation of biblical Christians, share the one commonality that matters—salvation in Jesus Christ. This is a wonderful thing. I can sit amongst all the normal folks, along with others who are weirdos in their own ways, knowing that we are fundamentally all the same: sinners saved by grace, come together to worship the one who lived and died in our place, in whom we have died and now live. Do not take this lightly. Do not squander this gift. Be with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s Day. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. —Hebrews 10:23–25 Please don’t miss worshiping with your local congregation if you can possibly help it. But if you’re in need of a good sermon, try these. Tweets about "sermon from:thethirstytheo" !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+"://";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");

The Kernel Is in the Husk

In the previous post, J. C. Ryle described the one true church, outside of which there is no salvation. This church is the body of Christ, composed of all God’s elect who have been born again (John 3). No congregation or denomination can claim to be that one true church. Let us not, however, make the mistake, as some do, of thinking that communion in a local congregation is unnecessary, that our faith is a personal, private matter between ourselves and God, and that we can worship as well—or better, even—in solitude. Such a notion is not only absent from, but contrary to, the New Testament record. No careful reader of the Bible can fail to observe that many separate churches are mentioned in the New Testament. At Corinth, at Ephesus, at Thessalonica, at Antioch, at Smyrna, at Sardis, at Laodicea, and several other places; at each we find a distinct body of professing Christians,—a body of people baptized in Christ’s name, and professing the faith of Christ’s Gospel. And these bodies of people we find spoken of as ‘the churches’ of the places which are named. Thus St Paul says to the Corinthians, ‘But . . . we have no such custom, neither the churches of Christ’ (1 Cor. 11:16). So also we read of the churches of Judea, the churches of Syria, the churches of Galatia, the churches of Asia, the churches of Macedonia. In each case the expression means the bodies of baptized Christians in the countries mentioned. . . . We know, moreover, that in all these churches there was public worship, preaching, reading of the Scriptures, prayer, praise, discipline, order, government, the ministry, and the sacraments. What kind of governments some churches had it is impossible to say positively. We read of officers who were called angels, of bishops, of deacons, of elders, of pastors, of teachers, of evangelists, of prophets, of helps, of governments. (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3; Rev. 1:20.) All these are mentioned. . . . Their two chief principles seem to be, ‘Let all things be done decently and in order;—Let all things be done unto edifying’ (1 Cor. 14:40, 26) . . . We know, finally, that the work begun by the missionary preaching of the Apostles was carried on through the instrumentality of the professing churches. It was through the means of grace used in their public assemblies that God added to the number of his people, converted sinners, and built up saints. Mixed and imperfect as these churches plainly were, within their pale were to be found nearly all the existing believers and members of the body of Christ. Everything in the New Testament leads us to suppose that there could have been few believers, if any, who were not members of some one or other of the professing churches scattered up and down the world. . . . Let us look upon visible churches, with their outward forms and ordinances, as being to the one true church what the husk is to the kernel of the nut. Both grow together,—both husk and kernel. Yet one is far more precious than the other. Just so the true church is far more precious than the outward and visible.—The husk is useful to the kernel. It preserves it from many injuries, and enables it to grow. Just so the outward church is useful to the body of Christ; it is within the pale of its ordinances that believers are generally born again, and grow up in faith, hope, and charity.—The husk is utterly worthless without the kernel. Just so the outward church is utterly worthless except it guards and covers over the inward and the true.—The husk will die, but the kernel has a principle of life in it. Just so the forms and ordinances of the outward church will all pass away, but that which lives and lasts for ever is the true church within.—To expect the kernel without the husk, is expecting that which is contrary to the common order of the laws of nature. To expect to find the true church, and members of the true church, without having an orderly and well-governed and visible church, is expecting that which God, in the ordinary course of things, does not give. —J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied (Banner of Truth, 2016), 247–250, 254.

In Preparation for the Lord’s Day: In His Holy Temple

The Lord Is in His Holy Temple At Your holy temple I will bow in reverence for You. Psalm 5:7 The Lord is in His holy temple, The Lord is in His holy temple; Let all the earth keep silence, Let all the earth keep silence before Him. Keep silence, keep silence before Him. —The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration (Word Music).

In Preparation for the Lord’s Day: Savior, Again to Thy Dear Name

Savior, Again to Thy Dear Name The Lord will give strength to His people; The Lord will bless His people with peace. Psalm 29:11 Savior, again to Thy dear Name we raise With one accord our parting hymn of praise; Once more we bless Thee ere our worship cease, With eager hearts we wait Thy word of peace. Grant us Thy peace upon our homeward way; With Thee began, with Thee shall end the day; Guard Thou the lips from sin, the hearts from shame, That in this house have called upon Thy name. Grant us thy peace, Lord, through the coming night; Turn Thou for us its darkness into light. From harm and danger keep Thy children free; For dark and light are both alike to Thee. Grant us Thy peace throughout our earthly life, Our balm in sorrow and our stay in strife; Then, when Thy voice shall bid our conflict cease, Call us, O Lord, to Thine eternal peace. —The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration (Word Music).* * This hymnal includes only the first two verses.


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