Archive for the 'Local Church' Category

Prayer in Colossians

Paul’s letter to the Colossians was written by the apostle to a group of people that he had never met. He knew the Gospel had worked effectively in Colossae, and that a church had been gathered there, but he never made it to the city to personally teach those believers. News of their faith reached him through his coworkers, but along with that good news, he heard reports of false teaching that was starting to pull some of them aside. Paul wanted to write to remind those believers what the truth of the Gospel was that they had believed, and to give them instruction how to remain firm in that truth. Part of his instruction about a sound Christian life was on the topic of prayer. Throughout the letter, Paul either records his own prayers for them or teaches them about prayer. It is an important part of this book. Prayer is just as important for believers today as it was for those believers almost two thousand years ago. By answering four questions about prayer, Paul teaches that it is an indispensible part of a believer’s life.

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Summer Vacation Meditation

Perhaps this summer finds you and your family loading up the car and driving off in search of pristine scenery and family memories. As you travel across our beautiful land, many striking sights meet your eye: forested hills, sandy beaches, vast plains, rugged mountains, deep canyons, and pounding surf. What do you see when you look at these beautiful sights?

God’s splendor in creation should provoke our worship.

Worship isn’t just something that happens for an hour and fifteen minutes on Sunday morning; it is giving God the honor and glory due him. It is recognizing who he is and what he has done. David’s meditation on God’s greatness and goodness in Psalm 8 is a great pattern for our thoughts. As we view God’s creation, we can’t help but feel very small. Yet God cares for us in an extremely involved and loving way! Such undeserved kindness!

God’s spectacular universe demonstrates his power and “God-ness” (Rom 1:20). The unrelenting power of the ocean, the silent immensity of the atmosphere, the undisturbed tranquility of mountain peaks and ocean trenches make it very clear that we are out of our league. Man is easily crushed, lost, exhausted, or even killed in his attempts to explore God’s vast creation. Only an omnipotent God could create and maintain such a universe!

God has created a beautiful world that, although marred by sin’s curse and man’s sinfulness, still causes the regenerate heart to resonate with the beauty of God’s greatness. A Christian should be able to appreciate the beauty of creation far beyond any scientist, astronomer, or geologist simply because we understand the greater significance of creation. It does not exist “just because”; it exists because God created it for his pleasure and to accomplish his will (Rom 11:36).

Many of our hymns echo this truth. Listen to these words penned by George W. Robinson in 1876 from the hymn “I Am His and He Is Mine.”

Heav’n above is softer blue,
Earth around is sweeter green!
Something lives in every hue
Christless eyes have never seen;
Birds with gladder songs o’erflow,
Flowers with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know,
I am His, and He is mine.

Allow your summer vacation to be a time of worship as you meditate on our great God!

July 2010

The Holiness of God

Growing up my brother and I were known for our very red hair. I wish I had a quarter for every time someone called me “carrot top” or asked us while in the grocery store, “Wherever did you get such red hair?”

While the red hair was attention getting, I have to admit I didn’t really like either the hair or the attention. I even let my brother cut my hair when he was only four years old and didn’t mind the extra locks he cut off! Thankfully as I got older my hair has turned more brown than red, and now with four teenagers the white hairs are coming through!

God is known for his attribute of holiness. God’s people are known as “saints,” or holy ones. The church is to be holy and blameless. Yet, the doctrine of holiness that is essential to who God is and is to characterize God’s people too often gets the same kind of response that I gave to my red hair! There is little to no real understanding, thankfulness, or love for holiness. Too many of Christ’s church today are not only wishing for a change—like I wanted my hair to change color—they are actively making the change, cutting it out entirely!

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Does the Gospel have a Social Mandate?

The gospel should be the dearest thing to the heart of the redeemed. That God would save a sinner such as I should never cease to amaze me. That there would always be some who stretch the gospel to include things that it does not should not surprise me.

For the last sixty or so years we have heard new evangelicals stress “social involvement.” Harold John Ockenga characterized fundamentalists as being indifferent to the physical needs of people. He and other new evangelicals promoted a positive social message. Their view of a contemporary kingdom of God provided a foundation for engaging the culture and advancing a social element in the Gospel. Ockenga claimed, “There need be no disagreement between the personal gospel and the social gospel.” Fundamentalism was portrayed as leaving out an important part of the Bible message. The push for the Gospel to have a social relevance gained acceptance in both liberal and new evangelical circles. This emphasis has appeared in many different forms, but has never gone away.

Today there are groups which claim to be defining the Gospel. The Gospel Coalition is gaining popularity among new evangelicals and some fundamentalists. I wholeheartedly agree with the Gospel Coalition that salvation is “received by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone” (Gospel for all of Life: Preamble). But in the same document they claim that Christian living is supposed to impact the arts and improve living conditions.

“Developing humane yet creative and excellent business environments out of our understanding of the gospel is part of the work of bringing a measure of healing to God’s creation in the power of the Spirit. Bringing Christian joy, hope, and truth to embodiment in the arts is also part of this work. We do all of this because the gospel of God leads us to it…. Christian churches must work for justice and peace in their neighborhoods through service even as they call individuals to conversion and the new birth” (Theological Vision for Ministry, V, 5).

Those who wrote the Foundation Documents for the Gospel Coalition lament that they do not “see enough individual churches that embody the full, integrative gospel balance we have outlined here” (Theological Vision for Ministry).

In 1976 Ronald Sider wrote, “Social reform and social welfare are aspects of proclaiming the gospel.” That has been the rallying cry of most new evangelicals for decades. The Gospel presented in God’s Word calls men to turn from sin and trust the finished work of Christ. The lost must see that they are spiritually bankrupt, and the God of all grace provides salvation through Jesus Christ alone. That’s the Gospel message. Our work is soul work. We should beware of any man or movement that removes repentance from the Gospel, and we should be aware that many are preaching social action as part of Gospel work.

I’m always wary of any movement that presses for evangelism but has little or no use for biblical separation. Historically fundamentalists have warned of an inclusivism that claims we can focus on what we have in common with compromisers for the sake of the Gospel. While some have rejected the terms “fundamentalist” and “new evangelical”, differences in agenda and emphasis still exist. Always look behind the curtain of any “coalition” to see who started it, who’s supporting it, what they are stressing, and what they are leaving out.

The mandate of the Gospel is repent and be saved. A social consciousness is not part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Lord.

June 2010

Faith, Leading, and the Will of God

“I’ve been ministering in this church for three years and have seen no fruit. Most days I feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall, but I’m never going to quit because I have faith God wants me to be here.” Maybe you’ve heard a testimony like this from a missionary or Christian worker and walked away encouraged by their resolve and spirituality. But maybe the conversation went like this: “We have tried everything we can think of for three years. We have prayed, we have worked, and we have prayed some more. God is leading us to another ministry.”

Which person was actually doing God’s will, the one who stayed or the one who left? Is there any objective way to find out? How do I know what God’s will is when I am faced with a similar situation?

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Spiritual Gifts and the Church Today

The debate about spiritual gifts in the church today has not abated in recent years. While the topic of gifts exercised by the body should not dominate discussions, neither should it be a subject that we ignore. Since the Bible does speak of spiritual gifts being provide by God and used in the local church for its edification and maturity, this area of study should not be surrendered to charismatics to be twisted and abused.

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Every Member Ministry

Ephesians 4 follows three chapters that rehearse the glorious position that belongs to the Christian because of the work of Christ. It starts the final 3 chapters that make everyday applications of the gospel in the local church, the home, the workplace, and the world at large. In 4:11–12, Paul speaks of leaders who have been given to the church by God for its development. My understanding of verse 11 (with an eye on 2:20) is that the gifts of apostle and prophet were foundational and temporary, but that the gifts of evangelist and pastor-teacher are still functioning today. I’d like to focus on verse 12, however. It teaches that one of the main jobs of ministerial leaders is to “get the work of the ministry done through others,” as Bill Hull put it in his very helpful book The Disciple Making Pastor. The American Standard Version of 1901 communicates the idea most clearly. Church leaders were given by Christ “for (pros) the perfecting of the saints, unto (eis) the work of ministering, unto (eis) the building up of the body of Christ.”

So what? So the pastor-teacher is to equip the entire church body with the goal that they can minister and build each other up effectively. Your pastor’s job is to get you working—and your job is to make that easy on him! The biblical norm is “every member ministry.” That’s the point of 1 Corinthians 12’s body imagery. That’s the point of Ephesians 4:15–16’s focus on “every joint” and “each part.” That’s the point of the perpetual focus on “one another” ministry in the New Testament.

Let’s close with a picture. Too many churches rise and fall with the pastor. Relationships and responsibilities look like a wagon wheel in which all the spokes are connected to the pastor-hub. If he falls, or leaves, or dies, every other spoke is in jeopardy. He’s the center; he’s essential; he’s preeminent. Much better is a church that looks more like a spider web, with relationships and responsibilities moving in every possible direction, thereby making every member both important and expendable—including the pastor. The only indispensable one is also the only preeminent one: Jesus Christ. August Strong put it this way in his Systematic Theology:

“That minister is most successful who gets the whole body to move, and who renders the church independent of himself.  The test of his work is not while he is with them, but after he leaves them.  Then it can be seen whether he has taught them to follow him, or to follow Christ; whether he has led them to the formation of habits of independent Christian activity, or whether he has made them passively dependent upon himself.”

A healthy church isn’t dependent on one man or even a handful of people. It is one in which 100% of the people do 100% of the work, to the glory of God. Every member ministry.

February 2010

OBF Visitor Website

The OBF Visitor is the official publication of the Ohio Bible Fellowship. Feature articles from past issues of the Visitor are made available here for your use. You may read, distribute, and use this material as long as you do so in its entirety and without modification. All articles © The Ohio Bible Fellowship.


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