29 Oct

Additional Thoughts on Judgment Houses

First, please read the article posted by Dr Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (my alma mater), called “Seven Reasons Halloween Judgment Houses Miss the Mark,” and then come back to read my two additions to the seven reasons below the Judgment House logo.

In the past, I have been part of putting on a Judgment House or Hell House and have taken groups to a Judgment House.  So, I have experience.  To be honest, I’ve felt uneasy about them the entire time.  Dr Moore’s reasons are excellent, but based upon what I’ve seen, I would add two more reasons they miss the mark:

1) They get you scared at the wrong being. They usually communicate that salvation by faith in Christ is ultimately about being saved from the devil.  No doubt, once in Christ, we have personal victory over Satan, but we must get the biblical perspective concerning from whom we are saved.  Ultimately, God, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, saves us from God Himself.  It’s not the devil that unrepentant sinners should fear.  It’s God.  It’s God who can destroy both body and soul in hell.  It’s God who will pour out His wrath forevermore on unrepentant sinners, including the devil and his demons.  We should fear God way more than the devil.

2) They get you to answer the wrong question. Like similar ministries such as “Heaven’s Gates, Hell’s Flames,” they try to get you to answer this question:  do I want to go to hell?  I’ve certainly heard a few in my day say that they do want to go to hell, but 99% say that they don’t want to go to hell.  Then Judgment House leaders will usually say something like this, “If you don’t want to go to hell, pray this prayer, and ask Jesus into your heart.”  If you do so, they’ll then pronounce you saved from the fires of hell.

The only problem is that they’ve gotten you to answer the wrong question.  The question of the gospel is not “Do I want to go to hell?”  The question of the gospel is “Do I want Jesus as my Savior and Lord?”  Almost everybody wants to avoid to hell.  However, many want Jesus as Savior for “fire insurance,” but few want Jesus as Lord.  The only problem is that if Jesus is not your Lord, He is not your Savior.  Judgment Houses almost always miss this crucial part of the gospel.

Maybe you’re reading this article, and you have not been saved from the wrath of God by repenting of your sin and believing on Jesus.  I would invite you to read our intensive gospel presentation from our website.  It starts right here.

May all believe on Jesus and be saved from the wrath of God!

29 Oct

Zachariah’s Pumpkin Prayer

Zachariah and I made this recording last year as an audio track to play during our Trunk or Treat.  He had just turned 4-years-old, and we decorated our S-10 with a Pumpkin Prayer theme.  Now that Halloween has rolled around again, I was reminded of it and thought I’d share it with you all.  It’s too cute!  But don’t take my word for it…listen for yourself below!

Untitled from Ben Simpson on Vimeo.

26 Oct

Tried and Failed

Do you ever look at some of the heroes of the Bible and think to yourself, “I could never do that.  I’m a failure,”?

Maybe that’s how you feel in the face of amazing stories of victory like the one experienced by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego when they stood before King Nebuchadnezzar, who had given them the option of bowing down to the golden statue he had set up or being thrown into a furnace of blazing fire.  The three young Jews valiantly stood firm for God and refused to bow down.  So, the king had them thrown into the blazing furnace, but God miraculously saved them by keeping the flames from harming them.  Maybe you come away from that story amazed at how God worked but feeling like you very well might have let God down instead of standing firm for God.  Maybe you’ve been tested before and failed, and you think you might fail again.

I want to encourage you if that’s you.  One of the things that I love about the Bible is that it presents real people—warts and all.  It doesn’t just tell of the courageous and the victorious, the noble and stalwart.  It also presents the cowardly and the failures, the weak and those of little faith.  Perhaps the person of Peter is the best example of this type.

Peter was part of a special crowd.  He was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, and then among those twelve, he was part of the inner three, along with James and John, who were closest to Jesus.  Peter was outspoken and seemingly very bold and courageous.  We often see Peter speaking for the group.  In fact, it was Peter who so emphatically answered Jesus’ question to the disciples in Matthew 16:15, Who do you say that I am? Peter, with great assurance, answered, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16).  However, when the time came for Peter to be tested, his boldness and courage failed miserably.

On the night that Jesus was betrayed and arrested, He spent the hours before that event with His disciples eating His final Passover meal.  At the end of the meal, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper and then began to warn His disciples.  We read in Matthew 26:30-35:

  • After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, ‘I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK SHALL BE SCATTERED.’ But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” All the disciples said the same thing too.

Peter was so bold in his words there in v33 and v35, but notice that Jesus turns to Peter and basically says to him, “Peter, you’re going to be the first one to fall away.”  Peter shoots back that Jesus is wrong, stating that he’d be faithful to Jesus to the death.

Later that night, it looks like Peter very well might make good on his word.  In the Garden of Gethsemane while Jesus was praying, Judas came with the temple authorities to arrest Jesus.  All the gospels tell us that one of the disciples leapt into action to defend Jesus.  This disciple drew his sword and struck one of the guards until Jesus stopped him.  John 18:10 tell us this disciple was Peter.  He did indeed risk his life for Jesus because the authorities could have easily turned on Peter and killed him, but Peter would be brought to a crisis of decision later that night that would have different results.

After Jesus’ arrest, Peter apparently tailed the crowd and waited outside while Jesus was being interrogated by the High Priest and the council.  It was in that courtyard that Peter was brought to his crisis of decision.  We pick up the action in Matthew 26:69-75:

  • Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk gives you away.” Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Peter was tried and failed.  The one who had said just a few hours before that he’d never desert Jesus deserted Jesus, not once but three times.  Peter was confused and afraid, and those feelings got the best of him, leading him to sin.

You may be thinking, “I thought you were trying to encourage me.”  I am.  So, here it comes.

Although Peter failed Jesus miserably, Jesus did not cast Peter away and leave him in his despair.  Instead, He sought to restore Peter, and after His resurrection, Jesus did just that.  In John 21:12-17, we read of that gracious conversation between Jesus and Peter:

  • Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples ventured to question Him, “Who are You?” knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and the fish likewise. This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead. So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus *said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He *said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He *said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.”

There you have it—complete restoration!  For every time Peter had denied Christ, Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to affirm his love for Jesus and then communicated to Peter that He was going to still use him in future ministry.  Indeed, God did use Peter mightily as recorded in the New Testament.  Just read the book of Acts!

What’s more though, in the end, Peter did make good on his promise to Jesus that he’d follow Him even if it meant dying for Him.  Tradition tells us that Peter would be crucified for his faith in Christ under the reign of Roman Emperor Nero.  However, Peter, because esteemed the Lord so much, demanded to be crucified upside down, feeling unworthy to be crucified upright like Jesus.

Maybe your story is more like Peter’s than Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego’s.  I want to say to you that if you are God’s child, He still desires to use you, no matter your failure.  He wants to dust you off, set you upright, and restore you to the fullness of life with Jesus.  God is not done with you.  Repent of your failure, asking the Lord to forgive you, and cast yourself onto the tender grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ.

We must always keep in mind that our hope is not founded on our faithfulness to God, but on Christ’s faithfulness to God.  Jesus was tried time and again, but never turned from God.  Where we would have and have failed, Jesus never did.  He lived the life that we cannot live and died the death that we deserve, and by faith, He is our substitute.

Friend, hate your failures and strive to never fail, but always rest in the knowledge that your hope for life everlasting is built on nothing more and nothing less that Jesus’ blood and righteousness.  May the grace of God through Jesus Christ abound in your life until the ultimate victory!

20 Oct

The Kingdom of God: Already But Not Yet

Given Tuesday night’s message at the Salem Baptist Association annual meeting, it’s ironic that I had already prepared to post what I’m about to share with you.  Bear with me a moment so that I can set up what I’m about to say from the context of the book of Daniel, which I am currently preaching through on Sunday mornings…

In the book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar had a night vision of an enormous statue.  We find out in Daniel 2:31-33 that the statue in his dream had a head of gold, a breast and arms of silver, a belly and thighs of bronze, and legs of iron with feet of iron and clay.  It looked something like this picture to the right.

But then in Daniel 2:34-35, we read that in the vision this impressive statue is pulverized into dust by a stone cut without human hands.  The stone then grew into a mountain that eventually filled the entire earth.

When we read further, Daniel begins to tell Nebuchadnezzar the meaning of the dream.  We find out that four metals of the statue and the stone represent the five successive nations that would dominate the known civilized world, including the Promised Land, between the fall of Judah to the first coming of the Messiah.  So, while the content of the vision was in the future for Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel, it is in the past for us.  Therefore, world history will be a helpful ally in helping us fully understanding the meaning of the dream.  The gold, as the text tells us, is the Babylonian Empire (Daniel 2:36-38).  The silver, as we learn from history, represents the Medo-Persian Empire (Daniel 2:39).  The bronze, as history tells us, must represent the Grecian Empire (Daniel 2:39.  The iron symbolizes the Roman Empire, as indicated by world history (Daniel 2:40-43).  Finally, the stone, as the text tells us, symbolizes the kingdom of God, which will destroy all other nations and eventually dominate the whole earth.

In other words, the Lord revealed through Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel that Babylon, who had conquered Judah, would be defeated by Medo-Persia, Medo-Persia would be defeated by Greece, Greece would be defeated by Rome, and finally Rome and all other nations would be defeated by the kingdom of God.

So, here’s the all important question that I’ll take up in this article:  has the rock already struck the statue, or is that solely a future event?  In other words, has the kingdom of God already arrived, or are we still waiting for it?

Some will say that the kingdom of God is a future event we’re waiting for.  Their timeline might be illustrated in this way:

However, my answer according to the Scripture is:  the kingdom of God has already been inaugurated but has not yet been consummated. It’s already here but not yet completely here.  This is what is called Inaugurated Eschatology. My timeline would be illustrated this way:

Notice how the present age and the age to come overlap in my timeline.  The kingdom of God was inaugurated by the first coming of the Messiah Christ and will be consummated or completed at the second coming of Jesus Christ.

What is the biblical evidence to support my position?

The Kingdom of God is a constant theme throughout the Scripture.  Clearly, the messianic kingdom of God was a future promise in Old Testament times.  We could look at several prophesies, but I’ll limit us to these two:

  • Isaiah 9:2-7, The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them. You shall multiply the nation, You shall increase their gladness; they will be glad in Your presence as with the gladness of harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, as at the battle of Midian. For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult, and cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire. For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.
  • Jeremiah 23:5-8, “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely; and this is His name by which He will be called, ‘The LORD our righteousness.’ Therefore behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when they will no longer say, ‘As the LORD lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of Egypt,’ but, ‘As the LORD lives, who brought up and led back the descendants of the household of Israel from the north land and from all the countries where I had driven them.’ Then they will live on their own soil.”

Plainly, the messianic kingdom of God was a future event from the Old Testament perspective, but the New Testament is a different story.  In the New Testament, it is a present and future promise.  With the first coming of the Messiah came the kingdom of God.

John the Baptist, who was the forerunner of Jesus telling the people that the kingdom was coming, tells us in Matthew 3:1-3:

  • Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, “THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT!'”

While John was Jesus’ forerunner, He didn’t really understand that the kingdom of God would come in two stages.  Surely he hought it was a simply one stage deal, evidenced by his doubting that Jesus was the Messiah Christ recorded in Matthew 11:2-3:

  • Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to [Jesus], “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?”

Jesus was certainly the Messiah Christ.  In fact, He emphatically answered John’s question of doubt in Matthew 11:4-5:

  • Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM.”

In other words, “Don’t look for another because I am the Anointed One, the Messiah, who is bringing in the kingdom of God.”  What’s more, Jesus publically proclaimed that the kingdom of God had been brought with Him, as recorded in the following Scripture passages:

  • Mark 1:14-15, Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
  • Luke 4:14-21, And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district. And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all. And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.” And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

You see, the kingdom of God is eternally linked to the person of Jesus Christ.  If you don’t have Jesus, you don’t have the Father, and if you don’t have the Father, you certainly don’t have the kingdom of God.  That’s why Jesus cried out in John 12:44-45, He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me. He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me. That’s why Jesus told the unbelieving Jews in Luke 20:9-18 the parable of the vineyard, which concludes in this way:

  • “What, then, will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy these vine-growers and will give the vineyard to others.” When [Jewish religious leaders] heard it, they said, “May it never be!” But Jesus looked at them and said, “What then is this that is written: ‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.”

If you don’t have Jesus, you don’t have the kingdom because the kingdom of God is eternally linked to the person of Jesus, the Messiah Christ.  Jews and Gentiles alike without Jesus are not part of God’s kingdom.  Only those who are with Jesus are.

So, what then is the kingdom of GodThe kingdom of God is the reign of God in human history through Jesus Christ for the purpose of saving people from sin and demonic powers and establishing the New Heaven and New Earth. Currently, Jesus’ reign is a spiritual reign from Heaven over the church.  The coronation of Jesus on His heavenly throne is found in Hebrews 1:8-9,13:

  • But of the Son He says, “YOUR THRONE, O GOD, IS FOREVER AND EVER, AND THE RIGHTEOUS SCEPTER IS THE SCEPTER OF HIS KINGDOM. YOU HAVE LOVED RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HATED LAWLESSNESS; THEREFORE GOD, YOUR GOD, HAS ANOINTED YOU WITH THE OIL OF GLADNESS ABOVE YOUR COMPANIONS.”…But to which of the angels has He ever said, “SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I MAKE YOUR ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR YOUR FEET”?

But even here during His first ministry on earth, Jesus provided signs that He had inaugurated the kingdom of God.  Here are six signs of the presence of the kingdom of God:

1.  Casting out demons

  • Matthew 12:22-29, Then a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute was brought to Jesus, and He healed him, so that the mute man spoke and saw. All the crowds were amazed, and were saying, “This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?” But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.” And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.

2.  The Fall of Satan

  • Luke 10:17-20, The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” And He said to them, I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”

3.  The Binding of Satan

  • Matthew 12:28-29, But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.

Jesus is stating that He’s binding Satan so that He can plunder Satan’s kingdom by saving sinners.

4.  The Defeat of Satan

  • John 12:27-33, “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. “Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” So the crowd of people who stood by and heard it were saying that it had thundered; others were saying, “An angel has spoken to Him.” Jesus answered and said, “This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes. Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.

Jesus is linking His sacrificial death with the defeat of Satan.

5.  The Preaching of the Gospel

  • Matthew 11:2-5, Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to Him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” 4 Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: 5 the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM.

6.  The Bestowal of Forgiveness of Sins

This reality was predicted to be a sign of the messianic kingdom of God in the Old Testament, particularly in Isaiah 33:24, Jeremiah 31:34, Micah 7:18-20, and Zechariah 13:1.  Jesus surely manifested this sign as evidenced by Mark 2:1-12:

  • When He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, not even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them. And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying. And Jesus seeing their faith *said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?” Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, *said to them, “Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk’? “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—He *said to the paralytic, “I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.” And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”

Conclusion

Undoubtedly, the kingdom of God was inaugurated by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The kingdom is already here.  The stone in Daniel has already struck the statue and is currently pulverizing the statue and growing until it fills the entire earth.  However, the kingdom is not yet fully here.  There are still greater things to come when Jesus’ current spiritual reign will be replaced with His eternal physical reign here on the New Earth.  I don’t know about you, but I sure am ready for that.  Come back quickly, King Jesus!  Until then, we’ll live in the tension of “already, but not yet.”

18 Oct

Exercise Your Humility By Praying

Prayer is one of God’s precious graces to us.  It has many purposes for our life and growth, but have you ever thought about how prayer is meant to be an instrument of humility in our lives?

In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus, by example, teaches us how to pray.  Of course, this passage is best known as “The Lord’s Prayer,” but it’s probably better named “The Model Prayer.”  As we look at the prayer, notice how every single phrase in an exercise in humility:

  • Our Father” says:  God, You are my authority.
  • “Who is in heaven” says:  God, You are above me.
  • Hallowed be Your name” says:  God, You are holy, and I am not.
  • Your kingdom come” says:  God, I desire for Your territory and influence to grow over my life and my land.
  • Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” says:  God, I want to see Your plans come to pass more than mine.
  • Give us this day our daily bread” says:  God, my sustenance and provision come from You alone.
  • And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” says:  God, I am a sinner, and You are my judge.  Please have mercy on me!
  • And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” says:  God, I need Your protection both physically and spiritually.
  • For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, Amen” says:  You, God, are the only One worthy of my praise.

May you be a strong person of prayer and, consequently, a person of serious humility!

12 Oct

Why Is Church Membership Important?

Church membership is on the ropes.  Anecdotal evidence abounds as our church literally has been knocking on every door here in the city of Alexandria.  So many times we’ve heard, “I’m a Christian, but I don’t need to ever go to church.”

Compelling evidence also exists in the statistics of our denomination.  The Southern Baptist Convention boasts a membership of over 16 million Christians but at the same time reports that only just over 6 million attend a Southern Baptist church service of any sort.  That means that 62% of the SBC is AWOL.  That’s alarming!

West Main Baptist Church isn’t much better than the convention statistic.  We have 313 members on our roster, but 166 of them have not been to a service here in over a year.  That means that 53% of our local church membership is AWOL.  That’s shocking and sad and something we are committed to remedy!

Something has gone terribly wrong in the SBC and its churches.  Indeed, church membership is on the ropes.  In the eyes of many, it has become meaningless and unnecessary.

This view, however, is not based upon the revelation of the New Testament.  As we turn to the Scripture, we see a very different outlook concerning believers and the church.  In fact, I would argue from the Bible that church membership is vitally important.

So, why is church membership vitally important?  We’ll look at eight reasons:

1. Church membership places you under the watchcare of ordained church leadership.
Throughout the Bible, followers of God are figuratively called sheep, and sheep certainly need a shepherd.  It’s for this reason that God has ordained the office of pastor.  Just grammatically speaking, our Greek word translated “pastor” in the New Testament means “shepherd,” which in itself communicates watchcare and oversight.  More importantly though, we have passages like the following:

  • Ephesians 4:11-14, And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;
  • Hebrews 13:17, Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

In both passages, the implication is that sheep need a shepherd.  Therefore, Christians need a pastor, which only happens through church membership.  Through the commitment of church membership, a Christian places himself or herself under the watchcare of the pastor, which in turn clearly defines the pastor/shepherd’s flock.  Only then can a Christian experience the fullness of the God-ordained office of pastor.

2. Church membership provides necessary connection for fruitful life and ministry.
Often in our minds we separate the idea of membership from its biblical context.  We usually have the YMCA in mind, but when Paul talks about church membership, he’s talking about body parts being connected to a body.  Read the following text:

  • 1 Corinthians 12:12-20, For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body.

I’m sure most of you remember the Thing from The Addam’s Family.  It was that hand that ran around without a body.  Of course, it was funny because it’s so silly to think that a hand can run around without a body.  It’s equally silly to think that a Christian can have a fruitful life and ministry apart from the local church, which is the body of Christ.  Just as a hand severed from a body would quickly shrivel up and die, so goes the Christian apart from the Church.

3. Church membership supplies an ever-present opportunity for the stronger among us to build up the weaker among us.
So, you think that the church is beneath you, that if you get connected to it, it’ll just be dead weight hanging on you.  Friend, look again at what the Scripture says.  If you are as spiritual as you think you are, then you have an urgent obligation to aid those who are less spiritual.  The following text clearly teaches this truth:

  • 1 Corinthians 12:21-27, And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.

You as a “presentable” Christian are to help along the “less presentable” ones.  There is to be co-laboring toward Christlikeness.  What a ministry opportunity people neglect when they remain apart from the local church!

Of course, what I’ve described above is few and far between.  It’s not usually the stronger Christians who remain apart from the church but rather the weaker ones.  It’s the weaker ones, as Paul basically says, who certainly need to be a part of the local church so that they may be built up and made “presentable” or mature in Christ.  Part of the beauty of the church is that the strong help the weak so that nobody is left behind!

4. Church membership promotes commitment, which leads to trust.
Trust is a key component to biblical fellowship, which means far more than sharing meals together.  Biblical fellowship is sharing lives together—victories and defeats, happiness and sadness, healings and hurts, courageousness and anxiety.  That’s what God has in mind for the people of His church, but this can only happen where trust is found among the people, and trust is advanced by commitment.

Notice what it says about the first New Testament church in Acts 2:41-42, So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. They were “continually devoting themselves” to one another.  That’s an environment where trust will thrive because it’s filled with commitment, and commitment to one another is the very essence of church membership.  It’s good to know who’s with you and who you can count on because trust will then ensue.

5. Church membership stimulates us to faithfulness to the Lord.
My five-year-old son Zachariah loves cowboys and Indians, and one of his favorite shows is the Lone Ranger.  I’m sure you’re familiar with that show.  Even though the cowboy lawman is called the “Lone” Ranger, he is not alone.  He has Tonto, his faithful Indian friend.  In fact, in the very first episode, which we have on DVD, it’s actually Tonto that saves the Lone Ranger’s life, which provides him to opportunity to become the Lone Ranger.  So, even the Lone Ranger needs help from his friends to get by.

The same is true for the Christian life.  We need others around us to help us along in the Lord.  Look at what Hebrews 10:23-25 says:

  • 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.

You see, one of the graces that God has given us as we strive to hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering and to produce love and good deeds is fellow believers.  That’s why we’re not to neglect regular Christian gatherings, which will become increasingly important as we near the time of Jesus’ return.  Friend, you need other Christians to stimulate you to faithfulness in the Lord, and that happens best in the context of church membership.

6. Church membership conforms to the New Covenant pattern.
If we look at the context surrounding Hebrews 10:23-25, we’ll see a major emphasis on the New Covenant in Hebrews 10:19-22:

  • 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.

We see that God has made a new and living way for us through the sacrifice and priesthood of Jesus Christ.  This new and living way is the New Covenant, and as pointed out in Hebrews 10:23-25, one of the graces given us in the New Covenant is church membership.  The thinking goes like this:  since Jesus Christ has died to make a new way for us, we are to give our entire selves to Him in service and love, which is helped along by church membership.  Church membership conforms to the New Covenant pattern.

7. Church membership offers us a biblical context for accountability and discipline.
I know that 20th-century America saw the slide of the biblical doctrine and practice of church discipline, but praise God that here in the 21st-century we’re witnessing a recovery of it.  Church discipline is thoroughly biblical and another one of God’s graces to the Christian.  Although the word “discipline” seems negative, the heart of church discipline is righteousness and biblical loving care for one another in the faith.

Two basic types are taught in the Scripture.  First is formative church discipline, which happens all the time to every Christian.  This process is simply the formation of people in the Christian faith by bringing them to maturity in Christ through positive instruction and teaching.  Every time we hear the preaching or teaching of the Word, every time we encourage one another in the faith, formative church discipline happens.  We see this type of discipline particularly encouraged in the following texts:

  • Ephesians 4:11-16, And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
  • Hebrews 10:24-25, 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.
  • Colossians 3:16, Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

But formative church discipline doesn’t just happen through teaching.  It also happens by example.  Consider these texts:

  • 1 Corinthians 4:16, Therefore I [Paul] exhort you, be imitators of me.
  • 1 Corinthians 11:1, Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.
  • 3 John 11, Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.
  • Hebrews 6:11-12, And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

This kind of discipline is crucial because God uses it to prevent the sin that might require the second type, which is corrective church discipline. The more the church is shaped by formative discipline, the less it will need corrective discipline.

As I just alluded to, the second type of church discipline is corrective church discipline, which is the specific admonishment or correction of a particular church member for sin.  Sometimes it’s very informal, such as simply pointing out in conversation a wrong way of thinking, attitude, or action, or it can be very formal, such as when the entire congregation has to act on some situation.

We see corrective church discipline commanded in the following texts:

  • Matthew 18:15-18, If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
  • 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.
  • Galatians 6:1, Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.

Again, the heart behind this type of discipline is righteousness and loving care for one another. Therefore, the goal for the erring church member is always repentance and restoration.  Only church membership provides the necessary context for this sort of biblical care for one another.

8. Church membership glorifies God.
Jesus told us in Matthew 16:18 that He is going to build His church and that the gates of Hades will not overpower it.  Church membership is a tangible way of seeing Jesus’ work.  As we see people profess faith in Christ and commit to a local church body, the local church grows, and God is seen to be advancing in our community.  People begin to say, “God must be doing something!” and they would be right.  Christians gathered together and growing bears a greater sum witness to the work of God and, in turn, brings Him greater glory.

Conclusion
Church membership may be on the ropes at the moment, but I’m praying in faith that it will recover as the church begins to love again all the things that God loves.  May you see church membership as precious and indispensable as it was intended to be!