Three Guiding Principles for the Church

Sometimes it’s good to get back to basics. Doing so may reveal that we’ve gotten off track. Or it may affirm and empower us in the way in which we are already going.

With so many voices and competing truth claims pulling us this way and that, it behooves us to recall what it is that we are to be about as Christians, both individually and collectively. And when we turn to the Bible, God has given three main guiding principles. They are:

  • The Creation Mandate
  • The Great Commandment
  • The Great Commission

Let’s look at each briefly.

The Creation Mandate

Otherwise known as “The Cultural Mandate,” this is the nickname given to Genesis 1:28 which says: “God blessed them and said to them,Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'” Christians throughout the ages have seen this as a call to cultural, familial, and societal participation. It calls people to get married and have children. To work to provide for yourself. To contribute to society. To pursue creative endeavors. To grow food. To take care of animals. To build cities. To seek the good of your community.

These ideas are echoed elsewhere in Scripture. To The Jewish exiles, the prophet Jeremiah passes on a message from God, urging them to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:7) The Apostle Paul also reminds the Thessalonian church: “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)

This guiding principle tells us that God assigns dignity to the mundane, to the normal parts of life. God does not call us only to evangelism or only to loving one another; he calls us also to work in the contexts of creation and our families and communities.

The Great Commandment

We see this spoken by Jesus in Luke 10:27. “He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” It is the call to be guided by love in all we do–first by love for God and then by love of other people. We love God by learning about him, using our energy to serve him, and communing with him. 1st Corinthians 13 lists ways that we can love our fellow humans–by treating them with kindness, being patient, assuming the best, and speaking the truth. This principle, the call to be guided by love, reminds us that God cares not just about our knowledge, but also about our affections and motivations.

The Great Commission

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus commissions his disciples specifically and the church generally, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Similar ideas are expressed in Acts 1:8, which quotes Jesus as saying, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The idea is that Christ wants his church to grow—in breadth (making new converts) and in depth (creating mature disciples). Another component of “breadth” is that Jesus wants disciples of all kinds of people. Following the pattern of Acts 1:8, Christians are to evangelize and disciple those near to them (Jerusalem), those unlike them (Samaria), and those far away from them (the ends of the earth). This guiding principle reminds local church bodies to look beyond themselves in the cause of bringing people to maturity in Christ. It may require immense effort and discomfort, and yet it is what God has called and empowered the church to do! Christ will build his church, the Gates of Hell will not prevail, and he calls us to participate in such a work.

Conclusion

When the church neglects any one of these principles, it becomes unbalanced; worse, it fails to live according to the call that God has given. On a corporate level, various denominations may tend to focus on one principle while neglecting another. On individual level, a person’s culture or personality may lend itself more towards one over the others. The point is not that everyone needs to apply these principles in the same way, but rather that all three should be pursued in some way–individually, yes; but even moreso, corporately.

On the other hand, to those who feel discouraged, unsure if their tasks matter, may these principles offer encouragement. Whether you are caring for children at home, making beautiful YouTube videos, teaching missionary kids, holding the hands of the sick, praying with a co-worker, or participating in local government—what you are doing matters for God’s Kingdom! Press on, dear friends!

So, in closing, let us remember the dignity of work, the beauty of creativity, and the weight of our duties to society and family. May we be guided by holy affections and motivations. And may we live out the vision of the expansion and maturity of Christ’s church.

Let’s get back to basics, shall we?

~Hannah 🌸

John’s Love Letters, Part 7: Acting On Our Knowledge

“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” – 1 John 2:3-6, ESV

The text presents us with a very real truth, we cannot simply claim to know God and do nothing else. We must act on our knowledge of God as Creator, Sustainer, King, Sovereign, Master, Savior, etc. We cannot simply tell people that we know this awesome God without showing them. So, how do we show them? By Keeping His word.

I’m almost utterly rendered verbally paralyzed when I read this passage because I know that I don’t always keep His word. As a matter of fact, I feel like I’m bad at keeping His word. I feel almost as if there’s no way that I can possibly keep God’s Word, and then I realize, I’m right. I can’t keep God’s Word, but God can.

You see, when you and I were saved Jesus came to live on the inside of us through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit teaches us how to live, worship, and even work for God’s Kingdom. He does this by giving us gifts and equiping us for the ministry (1 Corinthians 12-14; Ephesians 4). We can’t do anything in the way of God’s Kingdom unless He sends the Holy Spirit to empower us for the work of the ministry.

When we say we know him, and we simply do nothing but attend church and act like it’s a holy social club, we then prove that we actually don’t know Him. We prove that we don’t actually acknowledge the real Jesus of the Scriptures, but rather a God and a Jesus of our own making.

Even as I write this blog post, I acknowledge that I have done this before. My sin is ever before and I pray God would grant me repentance and empower me to do more for Him. So, today, think and pray over 1st John 2:3-6. Let the Holy Spirit empower you for the service of the Lord.

John’s Love Letters, Part 5: Walking In Obedience to the Mission

“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” -1 John 2:3-6 ESV 

In William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible series, he lays out the three ways in which the phrase ‘know God’ was interpreted by Jews and Greeks and I couldn’t help but notice that the first two views is how a lot of Christians today view the concept of ‘knowing God.’

To know God, to abide in God, to have fellowship with God has always been the quest of the human spirit, for Augustine was right when he said that God had made men for himself and that they were restless until they found their rest in him. We may say that in the ancient world there were three lines of thought in regard to knowing God. 

 (i) In the great classical age of their thought and literature, in the sixth and fifth centuries before Christ, the Greeks were convinced that they could arrive at God by the sheer process of intellectual reasoning and argument. In The World of the New Testament, T. R. Glover has a chapter on The Greek in which he brilliantly and vividly sketches the character of the Greek mind in its greatest days when the Greek glorified the intellect. “A harder and more precise thinker than Plato it will be difficult to discover,” said Marshall Macgregor. Xenophon tells how Socrates had a conversation with a young man. “How do you know that?” asked Socrates. “Do you know it or are you guessing?” The young man had to say, “I am guessing.” “Very well,” answered Socrates, “when we are done with guessing and when we know, shall we talk about it then?” Guesses were not good enough for the Greek thinker. 

To the classical Greek curiosity was not a fault but was the greatest of the virtues, for it was the mother of philosophy. Glover writes of this outlook: “Everything must be examined; all the world is the proper study of man; there is no question which it is wrong for man to ask; nature in the long run must stand and deliver; God too must explain himself, for did he not make man so?” For the Greeks of the great classical age the way to God was by the intellect. 

(ii) The later Greeks, in the immediate background time of the New Testament, sought to find God in emotional experience. The characteristic religious phenomenon of these days was the Mystery Religions. In any view of the history of religion they are an amazing feature. Their aim was union with the divine and they were all in the form of passion plays. They were all founded on the story of some god who lived, and suffered terribly, and died a cruel death, and rose again. The initiate was given a long course of instruction; he was made to practise ascetic discipline. He was worked up to an intense pitch of expectation and emotional sensitivity. He was then allowed to come to a passion play in which the story of the suffering, dying, and rising god was played out on the stage. Everything was designed to heighten the emotional atmosphere. There was cunning lighting; sensuous music; perfumed incense; a marvellous liturgy. In this atmosphere the story was played out and the worshipper identified himself with the experiences of the god until he could cry out: “I am thou, and thou art I”; until he shared the god’s suffering and also shared his victory and immortality. 

This was not so much knowing God as feeling God. But it was a highly emotional experience and, as such, it was necessarily transient. It was a kind of religious drug. It quite definitely found God in an abnormal experience and its aim was to escape from ordinary life. 

(iii) Lastly, there was the Jewish way of knowing God which is closely allied with the Christian way. To the Jew knowledge of God came, not by man’s speculation or by an exotic experience of emotion, but by God’s own revelation. The God who revealed himself was a holy God and his holiness brought the obligation to his worshipper to be holy, too. A. E. Brooke says, “John can conceive of no real knowledge of God which does not issue in obedience.” Knowledge of God can be proved only by obedience to God; and knowledge of God can be gained only by obedience to God. C. H. Dodd says, “To know God is to experience his love in Christ, and to return that love in obedience.” – William Barclay, Daily Study Bible 

Imagine, if you will, a road. On both sides of the road is a very deep ditch. The left side of the ditch is called ‘cessationism.’ The right side of the ditch is called, ‘charis-mania.’ On the side of cessationism you have those who reject God’s sovereign operation of His gifts and working of miracles in the Church to the point that they are dry and stagnant in their mission. (Let’s face it. There’s virtually no such thing as a growing cessationist church.) On the other side, you have those who only desire to have an emotional experience with God and reject sound doctrine and teaching on the basis that they just don’t ‘feel’ it. Not to be confused with mainline charismatics (e.g. Assemblies of God, COGIC, IPHC, etc. ),  charis-maniacs often believe that modern-day ‘prophecy’ supersedes the authority of the real Word of God, the 66 books of canonized Scripture that we call the Bible.

Now, if you can’t tell, these are caricatures of both sides, but in some cases they are very real.

Both of these camps are wrong, and I would even argue that some individuals in both camps have no real relationship with God because they’re too busy feeding and worshipping their intellect or their emotions, but back to the analogy.

In the middle of this road you have a balance that applies both knowledge of God’s Word and fiery adoration for Jesus Christ and uses them both as a propeller in the mission of God through action.

Churches that will be driving forces in the Kingdom of God will always be ones that preach the uncompromised Gospel and demand action from their people to be a community of Gospel-preaching, Christ-saturated, Spirit and fire-baptized believers on mission.

So, what does 1 John 2:3-6 have to do with all of this? Our passage teaches that radical intimacy with God is born out of a true knowledge of God and is fueled by obedience to God. This does not mean that we never disobey God, but it means that are lives are generally characterized by obedient living and we are always seeking to live out our knowledge and understanding of God through our fulfillment of the Great Commission.

How do we do that? We simply be the Church. In “Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe,” Mark Driscoll offers this insight about fulfilling the Great Commission.

“The church is to be an evangelistic people on mission in the world, passionate to see lost people meet Jesus Christ as Savior, God, and Lord. Any church submitting to the Holy Spirit and obedient to Scripture wants fewer divorces, addictions, thefts, and abuses and knows the only way to see that happen is to make more disciples. The church loves people and is continually and painfully aware of the devastation that is wrought in this life and in the life to come for those who are not reconciled to God. Therefore, while not imposing religion on anyone, the church of Jesus Christ is to constantly be proposing reconciliation with God to everyone.” – Mark Driscoll, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe

In conclusion, walking in obedience out of love for God reveals the faith that’s within us. We live out our knowledge of God by preaching gospel, making disciples, and living missional lives.

Present(s) In the World

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
– Matthew 5:13-16 (ESV)

“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” – Ephesians 5:6-11 (ESV)

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” – 1 John 2:15-17 (ESV)

“The principle by which we live is not “how can I avoid contact with the world so as to be separate from it?” Rather, it is “how can I live in the world yet be free from its influence and by my life actually expose its contagion?” …As the light of the world, we shine in its darkness; as the salt of the earth, we preserve only if we are present in it.” 
– Sinclair B. Ferguson, Guidelines For Separation (Article in Tabletalk, June 2014, pg. 17)

As I think about these passages of Scripture and the Sinclair Ferguson quote, I’m reminded of a Jewish sect called The Essenes. The Essenes weren’t talked about much in the New Testament because they chose to live monastic lives in the wilderness because they wanted to remain separate from the world and not be stained by the culture. The Essenes were reported to be some of the most honest, studious, morally upright, and God-fearing people the world had ever known, but they eventually died out because they refused to live within a culture of people outside themselves.

As Christians, I think we can be guilty of the same thing. Let’s think about small churches that have 10-15 active members all over the age of 70. More than likely, that church won’t be around for too much longer. More than likely, it’s because somewhere along the way, the church decided it was better to live outside the culture than to live in it.

Let me clarify some things. We just read in 1st John 2 that we shouldn’t love world or the things in the world, but Jesus tells us that we are lights in the world in Matthew 5. Are these contradictory statements? No. As a matter of fact these passages of Scripture present us with a powerful truth. We are in the world, but not of it. We cannot be lights in the culture of the world if we refuse to live outside of it. That’s why I have my weekly Bible study at Hastings. It’s a coffee shop and a bookstore. It’s the epicenter of culture in our town. All different kinds of people walk in there of different religions, ethnicities, and walks of life. I have my Bible study there because the gospel is for all people of any background.

As Christians we cannot deny that we are in the world. It does us no good to try to live outside of the world while we’re here. However, we are not present in the world, but we are also presents in the world. As Christians, we are gifts to world because we have something that they need, the gospel. As we live out the gospel, we show the light of Christ and the light of Christ exposes the works of darkness in the world as Paul tells us in Ephesians 5 and shows the world that there is a better way.

Today, pray about how you can be a light in the world.

The Just Truth About Injustice: Part 1

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
– James 1:27 (ESV)

One of things we get used to in this world is the reality of injustice. Most people don’t treat the rich and the poor equally. They tend to show favoritism based on social status or acceptance in society. Most people tend to have a high school mentality. They form cliques and have popularity contests and they shun the less fortunate and socially outcast. In witnessing all of these things, and maybe even being victims of these acts of unfairness, we might feel discouraged and it would be easy fall into negative cynicism and anger but we must hold to the truth that God is and we must keep working to address oppressive injustices that we see in the world.

One of the first things the Church did after receiving the Holy Spirit was give to those who were in need (Acts 2:42-47). They weren’t giving pocket change in a Salvation Army bucket so can get the guy to quit ringing his bell at them. They were giving away deeds to houses. They were giving away deeds to land. They were giving away things that we would consider to be the finer things in life.

The apostles were promoting at Christ-powered lifestyle that drove men to give away their possessions for a purpose greater than themselves. They died to their own desires and wants, and gave from the love of their hearts. They witnessed those who were homeless, hungry, and lame, and they knew that something had to be done. By showing kindness to these victims of circumstance, they were able to win souls to Christ as God added them to the Kingdom (Acts 2:47).

Can you imagine the kind of positive effect the Church could have on our sin-stricken world if we would just allow the Holy Spirit to empower us and inspire us to do service and correct the injustices that we see in the world?

Taking Your City

Then the LORD put forth his hand, and touched my mouth; and the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth: see, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, and to destroy and to overthrow; to build, and to plant. – [Jeremiah 1:9-10 RV]

Good ministry through a church begins when that church determines that they are going to positively affect the culture in their area. As the body of Christ we always need to be moving, shifting, and reaching out for the sake of the gospel. As one of my dear friends in the ministry once said, ‘we must create, in out environment, a Christ-centered culture.’ The reason I chose Jeremiah 1:9, 10 as the main passage is because when God told Jeremiah that He had set him over nations and kingdoms He actually instructions: pluck up, break down, destroy, overthrow, build, and plant. The way I interpret this passage from the sentence and grammar structure is that through building and planting we will, in the process, pluck up, break down, destroy, and overthrow things that have no place in our culture. Through the courage that was built up inside Gideon, he destroyed the idols of his father (Judges 6:28-31).

We must be influential in culture because now, more than ever, we are being surrounded by a negative culture that is begging for people to conform to it’s worldly ambition and standard of living. Please understand, I am not anti-culture. I am anti-negative culture. As the church, I believe that it’s okay to take something that is positive from culture and redeem it for the preaching of the gospel. Churches do this all the time when they show clips from new movies and present the positive values that the movie teaches.

When Jesus sent out his disciples he knew that what kind of culture they would be going into. He didn’t expect them to be like the Essenes and completely avoid culture forever. He knew that the only way  to get the culture to embrace the gospel was to send them out into it.

All things considered, our objective has been and always will be to preach, pray, prophesy, heal the sick, and raise the dead.

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” [Mark 16:15-18 ESV]

For more information please watch “The Elephant Room: Church in the Culture vs. Culture in the Church” on the link below:

http://marshill.com/v/b75oqkn4f75b