Local Church

Purpose & Principles of a Local Church, Part 3

Introduced by Pastor Ed Vasicek. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Here is the last part of our “Purpose and Principles” document, developed and unanimously approved by our 1996 Elders’ Board. It grapples with what we consider to be reasonable and the proper balance in matters of how we conduct services, when we separate, and political activity. It continues to explain what makes our church distinct from both mainline churches and other evangelical churches. This line in particular grips me: “Our concern is that we are headed toward involving our people in edification and ministry, not matching anyone’s model.”

Views on Ministries

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The Problem of "Church Hopping" in My Community (Part 1)

I realize this practice is not unique to my community, but I think it happens in the Greenville, South Carolina area at an unusual level. Too much, in fact.

According to City-Data, there are 473 Evangelical Protestant churches in Greenville County. This does not include mainline denominational churches. Recently a visitor to our church told me she was looking for a church and had attended over 50 so far! (She was not church-hopping, she was church-shopping. There’s a difference.) There are many, many church options with varying degrees and shades of distinction. If a church member becomes disenchanted with his current church, he can most likely find another one that promises to match his preferences in a particular element of church life. Read more about The Problem of "Church Hopping" in My Community (Part 1)

Graves, Landmarkism and the Kingdom of God (Part 1)

If you’re a Baptist in America, you’ve probably heard of a peculiar brand of Baptist polity called “Landmarkism.” D.A. Carson recently quipped that hyper-Calvinism is a term usually reserved for somebody you don’t like!1 In Baptist circles, this is usually the intent when one uses the term “Landmarker.” That is not the way the term is used here! It is a genuine historical term, and its American founder was proud to call himself a “Landmarker.”

This series is a survey of what the father of American Landmarksim believed about the local church, and why he believed it. It is not a refutation of that position, although I will make some brief remarks along that line. This is an important topic, because I suspect many Baptists who hold to Landmark distinctives don’t actually understand what original Landmarkism actually taught.

A fiery, intelligent and formidable preacher from the mid to late 19th century named J. R. Graves is largely responsible for the development of Landmarkism. He admitted as much in 1880: Read more about Graves, Landmarkism and the Kingdom of God (Part 1)

Why Be a Faithful Member of a Local Church?

From Voice, May/June 2014. Used by permission. Related: “De-Churching” Trends.

It is my conviction that every Christian should be an active member of a Bible-teaching local church. As believers in Christ, we are members of His body and must discipline ourselves to be actively involved in ministry as a way of life. Here are some specific reasons why you should be a committed member of a solid, Bible-teaching local church.

You follow the pattern set forth in the New Testament. Although the word “membership” itself is not used in the New Testament, the principle is present nonetheless. For example, most of our New Testament books are letters that were written to specific groups of people who had chosen to identify themselves with Christ and each other. The word “church” is almost always used to refer to a specific group of people who in some way had committed themselves to serving the Lord and one another in the same ministry location. Numbers were known (Acts 1:15, 2:41, 4:4), rolls were kept (1 Timothy 5:9), servants were selected (Acts 6:2-5), discipline was practiced (1 Corinthians 5:12-13), worship was corporate (1 Corinthians 14:23), and shepherds knew for whom they were responsible (Hebrews 13:17). If you are a part of the body of Christ by virtue of repentant faith in Jesus Christ then you should want to make that association visibly known through church membership.

You have a greater opportunity to use your spiritual gifts. At the moment of your conversion the Holy Spirit came to live inside of your body (1 Corinthians 6:19). When He did this, He brought along the spiritual gift(s) that He sovereignly chose for you to possess for the blessing of the church (1 Corinthians 12:7, 11). As we use our gifts, we are being good stewards of the manifold grace of God (1 Peter 4:10). Can you use your spiritual gift without joining a church? Yes, but in most churches many ministry opportunities are limited to church members only. This is as it should be. Unity in doctrine, purity of life, and submissive accountability to one another and leaders are necessary for a healthy Christian life. The process of becoming a member also gives the existing leadership the opportunity to discern one’s agreement in doctrine, ministry purpose, and goals; thus enabling them to know where best you may serve. Read more about Why Be a Faithful Member of a Local Church?

"De-Churching" Trends

From Voice, May/June 2014. Used by permission.

One of the least obvious—and yet most tragic—changes that American Evangelicalism has experienced in the past fifty years is the diminishment of the centrality of the local church in the life of many Christians. The Lord’s Day, once considered a special day dedicated to the worship and service of God, is now treated like any other day by many professing believers. And local church life, once considered the center of indispensable relationships within our spiritual family whom we love, encourage, and to whom we remain accountable, is now treated like an extra-curricular activity rather than an essential ingredient of the Christian life.

The signs of the diminishing priority of the church are many. However, I will only mention the six trends that Kent Hughes highlights in his book Set Apart: Calling a Worldly Church to a Godly Life (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2003).

Hitchhiker Christians

Hughes writes:

The hitchhiker’s thumb says, “You buy the car, pay for repairs and upkeep and insurance, fill the car with gas—and I’ll ride with you. But if you have an accident, you are on your own! And I’ll probably sue.” So it is with the credo of many of today’s church attendees: “You go to the meetings and serve on the boards and committees, you grapple with the issues and do the work of the church and pay the bills—and I’ll come along for the ride. But if things do not suit me, I’ll criticize and complain and probably bail out. My thumb is always out for a better ride.” (128)

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What's So Important About the Local Church? (Part 2)

From Voice, May/June 2014. Used by permission. Read Part 1.

Biblically independent churches strive to be loyal to Christ and His Word rather than to any organization. However, the First Century apostles of Christ also encouraged cooperative interdependence between local churches.

  • Greetings were extended throughout all the New Testament between independent churches, indicating a relationship with other churches in other regions (example in Romans 16:23).
  • Paul instructed the church at Rome to assist Phoebe in her visit from Corinth (Romans 16:1-2).
  • Paul instructed the churches of Galatia, Macedonia, and Achaia to collect offerings for the poor believers in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1-3; 2 Corinthians 8:1; 9:1-2; Romans 15:25).
  • Barnabas was sent by the Jews of the church of Jerusalem to be an encouragement to the Gentiles of the church at Antioch (Acts 11:22-24).
  • The Gentiles in Antioch sent an offering to help the Jewish believers in Jerusalem during a famine (Acts 11:28-30).
  • An inter-church conference was held in Jerusalem in order to clarify doctrinal teaching regarding what is to be the true understanding of salvation (Acts 15:1-21).
  • After the inter-church conference in Jerusalem, Paul and others were sent to inform the new churches in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia of the resultant teaching (Acts 15:22-23).
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