Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The What and Why of Membership

Church membership is often a sticky subject. So naturally, when we encourage people to take our Identity class and a requirement for membership - the question gets asked, why membership?

I think there are two concerns behind the question. 

The first is that membership is not a biblical concept. The thought is that if a subject does not appear in the Bible than it is either not a biblical concept or that the Bible has nothing to say about it. Therefore, one does not need to be a member of a church in order to honor God. Membership then is a foreign idea to faithful Christianity and thus not required but just traditional "religion."

There are a lot of subjects the Bible does not appear to talk about - dating for example. But to conclude the Bible has nothing profitable to say about it is to read it very narrowly. This usually is a statement from ignorance, not from careful study. Additionally, what we believe and do as Christians is also the result of 2000 years of believers' experience of salvation in Christ. There is 2000 years of material of believers who have wrestled with the implications of the gospel. Good theology draws the implications of the gospel not just from the Bible but from the history of the church.

Careful examination of the New Testament reveals the first Christians clearly knew who was a part of the church and who was not (Acts 20, Eph 2, 1 Cor 12, 1 Tim 3). When Paul refers to the "whole church" the leaders must have had a way of knowing if everyone was there or not and whether they were a real member (1 Cor. 14:23). Numerous passages that give commands to how all people should be treated also include language that says, "especially among those of the household of faith," (Gal. 6:10). Passages that talk about expelling someone due to egregious sin must have been formal members who were expected to live otherwise (Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5). The reality is, in the New Testament, there is no such thing as a Christian who is not a member of a local church. In the early church after the New Testament was written, they probably became more strict about membership not less, especially in times of persecution since some members sold others out to protect themselves. The question was whether someone who denied Christ and betrayed fellow believers to death could be received back into the church. Suffice to say, it required some serious repentance and reconciliation. The bottom line is to not participate in the life of a body of believers is to not participate in the life of the head of the church, Jesus Christ. God has ordained that Christ operates by his Spirit through the local church. Being a member of a local church is part of what it means to be faithful to God.

The second objection is a fear - a fear that membership is a means of controlling people or of being legalistic and imposing a certain way of living the Christian life on others. Some people I have known object to membership because they have simply been burned by other churches or believers. They do not want to be hurt and they do not want someone to lack grace in helping them with their own temptations and struggles. This is where I think the obligation of pastors, elders, leaders within the church to care for the flock well, to serve people with love, grace, truth, and mercy is imperative (1 Pet. 5). It is not to "lord it over them." It is not to control church members but to be a vehicle for helping people experience freedom and love in Christ. I think some fear that if they are not a member they will experience more grace in their battles with sin than if they were a member and accountable to other people. They won't be vulnerable to being judged and criticized. Sometimes sheep bite and they bite hard. Some of these concerns are legitimate but to abandon community for fear of being wounded comes with the price of abandoning love which requires community.

Biblically, the lone ranger Christian is not better off but worse off. To commit oneself to a body of believers is actually to have greater access to God's grace through his Spirit among his people. In the Old Testament the greatest form of judgment was to be "cut off" from the covenant people of God (Gen. 17:14; Lev. 7:27; and many others). In the New Testament Paul speaks of believers leaving the body has being "handed over to Satan" (1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Tim. 5:20). The reality is, if you want help to grow in your faith and experience more help and grace in your battle with sin, the best thing to do is to commit to being a member of a local church. We all need community and we can't just have any community. We need a community that embodies the faith, hope, and love of Jesus.

Membership then is simply to admit you need others to help be a better disciple of Jesus. It is to formally commit and covenant with God and others to love him and people better. It is to admit you cannot do it on your own and you need a place to find mercy, grace, freedom, and love in Christ. Membership is important then for us to be unified body of believers, to be a faithful people, to submit ourselves to others as we submit ourselves to Christ. Membership is therefore not something foreign to the Bible, but something that couldn't be more biblical.

For more helpful articles on this subject check out the following links:

Pastor Chris

Previewing Spring Classes at Dwell

Beginning in January we will have a new round of classes prior to our first service. We will have two rounds of them from January through May with breaks in-between.

January 5th through March 16th

Identity 1.0
This is a class we require for membership but one does not have to commit to being a member to take it. In the class we cover major beliefs of Christians with a focus on ours in particular. I have always had fun with this one and it has been one of our most popular classes. This is mostly a theology class with a little bit of an overview of our approach to ministry towards the end. We address topics like the Trinity, Incarnation, the church, sacraments, Bible, Sin, Salvation, and Eschatology (heaven, hell, new heavens and earth).

Catholic Epistles
This is what we call all the letters not written by Paul - James, Hebrews, 1-3 John, 1-2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation. Over the course of two months all of them will be covered and most of them only in one day. Hebrews and Revelation will get a little more treatment. This is a great one to drop in on a particular day if you are preparing for personal study, leading a small group or discipleship relationships through any one of these books.

March 30th through May 25th

Identity 2.0
This will be a new one I have had it in my mind to do. Some have asked for a follow up to Identity. So this is part of my response. Traditionally, many Christians in history have done a "what we believe" training for believers (Identity 1.0) and then a "how should we live" training (Identity 2.0). This class will basically walk through the 10 commandments, always with an eye to the gospel, but how the gospel enables us to live in manner worthy of the Lord. This is a class on Christian ethics. We will discuss lots of "hot topics." Sexuality, bioethics, consumerism, family issues, birth control, work, human life from cradle to grave. Should be quite interesting. I've got some serious preparing to do!

Early Israel
The second round of overview of books in the Bible will cover Joshua, Ruth, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel. We may move on to the Pentateuch (Gen.-Deut.) after that. It just depends on how the schedule and whats going on with our church. We may do something totally different for a few weeks.

Looking forward to it. If you are interested in any of these you can contact me or the church office.

-Pastor Chris

From Pastor Jason: Three Things to Look Forward to at Dwell in 2014

  1. Understanding and Using Your Gifts. As a leadership team we’ve learned a lot about our church in the past year. Particularly through the Natural Church Development assessment, we’ve discovered our collective need to understand and use our personal gifts. So this year I hope each of us will not only be able to say “I know how God has uniquely gifted me” but also “I am using those gifts to honor Jesus and love our church community.” More details will be coming at our Family Meeting on Sunday, January 26th at Noon
  2. The Bible. In 2014 I want to see everyone grow in their understanding and appetite for the Word. And so we will be organizing a church-wide reading plan and memorizing Scripture together. Each month we will produce a reading plan that will guide us through the Bible, two chapters a day. Additionally I encourage everyone to memorize a few key passages that we will be studying this year. We’ll add a verse a week so hopefully it will be an easy pace for those of us who don’t memorize very often. 
  3. The Same Ole’ Thing. I know exciting, right? But think about it. This is a brilliant truth about Jesus and his gospel and our mission … it stays the same every day, every week, every month, and every year. Though we hope to grow more and more in our understanding and faithfulness to these truths, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. This ought to give us a great sense of confidence as another year begins. 

  • This Saturday at 10am, help out with taking down Christmas decorations...you WILL be rewarded with pizza!  
  • Church work day is coming up January 18th. If you like tearing down, ripping up, organizing and giving away, then we hope to see you there. More details soon. 
  • Family Meeting - Sunday, January 26th at noon, immediately following our service. Food and family business, praising God for the year that was, and looking ahead at 2014. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

January Bible Reading Plan

January 1st is the day to kick-off our church Bible reading plan.

We will have this again in your bulletins this coming Sunday, January 5th, but so you can easily access it online, we will be posting them each month on the blog! 

As Jason mentioned this past Sunday, Bible reading and memorization are more than just rote activities to fill our time; they are life-giving disciplines! As it says in Isaiah 55:10-11: 

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it."

May the Word of the Lord accomplish his purpose in you as you seek Him in study this year.
Happy New Year!

Monday, December 23, 2013

From Pastor Jason: Three Great Christmas Passages

May God speak to you and your family of his Son through his Word this Christmas. Here are three great passage to reflect on this week …
  • Isaiah 9:1-7
    • "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given … “ (v.6)
  • Luke 2:1-21
    • "And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (v.20)
  • John 1:1-18
    • "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (v.14)
Merry Christmas Church!

Peace ...
Pastor Jason

Friday, December 20, 2013

My Top 5 Books I read this year

I read a lot of good stuff this year but I did not read as much as I have in recent years. But I will give a few that really stick out to me (in no particular order).

1) Center Church, by Tim Keller

I started this book last December and finished it very quickly. But our Elder Board has been working through it together this year. I simply can't think of a better book out there on how to think through what faithful ministry should look like where you live. It is aimed at pastors and is basically a textbook so it is comprehensive. It will be a common resource for us sometime. His insights on contextualization, the church and culture, and the "missional church" are fantastic. Pretty much everything I have been wrestling with in ministry for the last five years is found in this one book.

2) The Cross of Christ, by John Stott

A modern classic on the subject of the atonement. Easy enough for anyone (in that it isn't bogged down by complicated jargon) but it is very dense. A must read when trying to think through what is meant by the claim "Christ died for our sins."

This book is the main reason why I didn't read a lot more this year because it was a monster. It deals with one of the biggest problems in our day - interpretation. He is funny, quirky, exhaustive, and precise. But this is by no means an easy read. Anyone who studied literary criticism or was bombarded by postmodern philosophy in college would benefit greatly from it.

4) Everyday Church, by Steve Chester and Tim Timmis

I am now using this book as training for our group leaders. Its simple, clear, and avoids some of the extremes among "missional church" guys. In some ways this book is Christianity 101, but it does depth and great questions to ask yourself, and your group, if you really are doing what you ought to be doing. We have a bunch of copies in the church lobby if you want to check it out.

I can't decide between the two so I will cheat and recommend 6 books and call five by using a tie (annoying I know). The first ought to be a must read because so many struggle with finding satisfaction in their work today. In some ways, work is the major idol of our day (definitely in Silicon Valley) because it is one of the primary ways we try to create meaning for our lives in a secular culture. This book is just good. We had a great time walking through it in our Faith and Work class.

The second, Redemption, is a very pastoral book in that it gently, lovingly, walks you through overcoming serious wounds and sins in your life. I really enjoyed it and am hoping and praying to have a group in our church walk through it in the future as a part of Redemption Groups for those struggling with abuse, pornography, eating disorders, or whatever else is preventing you from living life to its fullest in Christ.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Are Science and Faith at odds? Books and comments

Last month in our brief series on the Bible, I attempted to address the conflict so prevalent in modern society between science and faith (my sermon can be found here). I wanted to simply follow up, give a few basic resources for people to check out, and to attempt to clearly state the fundamental problem between science and faith.

Let me start with the fundamental problem. The problem is an issue of knowledge. Is scientific knowledge the only kind of knowledge that is trustworthy? Is religious knowledge purely subjective and therefore personal, unverifiable, and unscientific? This falls under the subject of epistemology. Epistemology is the study of knowledge, it is the philosophical subject of how we know what we know. Therefore, the debate between science and faith is ultimately an epistemological problem. The focus in the debate almost always revolves around the issue of evolution. Over time I have essentially focused on that issue less and less, because it is not the primary problem but a manifestation of the primary problem.

Virtually any book that seeks to defend Christianity against its critics addresses this problem of knowledge. What is frequently pointed out is that scientific knowledge has limits and is not as objective as it seems. It is merely pointing out the assumptions about the claim that the only legitimate knowledge is that which can be observed through natural phenomenon. In other words, the belief that we cannot know anything that cannot be subjected to a scientific test. Among several arguments I tried to give (however successfully) is that scientific knowledge must assume a rational order to the natural world. This is a philosophical assumption necessary for science to work. Science itself is a subcategory of philosophy and epistemology. It is not something that can be proven through a scientific experiment. But it is a faith commitment necessary to support science, and a highly rational one. Faith is a means to knowledge, as Augustine famously said, "I believe in order to understand."

Personally, I go for a view that science and Christianity are compatible and can reinforce one another. Be careful when drawing conclusions on my opinion of the theory of evolution from that.

There are numerous books that address these issues in much more detail and with great clarity. Alvin Plantinga is one of the most prominent but his stuff is very academic (even worse is my preference, T.F. Torrance). There are also numerous books that address specific issues. So let me give three accessible ones I have read.

Redeeming Science by Vern Poythress
This is the first one I would recommend because it is clear, has good introduction, and attempts to address lots of specific issues (even carbon dating). My main reservation is that he makes significant use of an analogical view of the natural world to matters of God and faith. Analogical views have limitations and people as Reformed as Poythress sometimes avoid them altogether (which makes me think he is simply trying to make the concepts easier to digest).

Reason for God by Tim Keller
This is a general apologetics book that has a couple of chapters relevant to this topic. They are very clear and easy enough to work through. He cites all the best sources on both sides. Keller is a bit non-committal on whether evolution is compatible with Christian theism. He does think evolution as the "grand theory of everything" is a serious problem that should challenged.

Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey
This book addresses more of the worldview issues and the reasons why our culture has divided science and faith. Nancy is a part of L'Abri, which is the ministry founded by Francis Schaffer. She spends a significant amount of time critiquing evolution. What is good about this book stylistically is that it is has lots of personal stories. She even talks about how she helps her children at a young age process this stuff. But it's still a meaty book.

I hope you find my insights and these resources helpful in your quest for clarity on this subject.

For more detailed information you can check out these links. I am giving a variety of links with opposing views on the issue of evolution. There is good and bad in all of these.
http://biologos.org (pro-evolution) http://www.icr.org (anti-evolution)
http://www.discovery.org (Intelligent Design people, a diverse group of people who are not all Christians but many are, mostly scientists who question evolution's dominance as the only view)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

From Pastor Jason: Worship Jesus

This is such a great time of year. It’s impossible not to get wrapped up in the lights, sweets, and that old, old story of Jesus and his love. Hearing the story of Christmas, of Jesus' arrival on planet earth, of the coming of God’s Son is the great anthem of the holiday season. That story never gets old, does it? Ah, but it can grow familiar. The story can and often does move to a place of personal comfort. In other words we can get so used to hearing a message that we no longer really hear it.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

From Pastor Jason: Reclaiming Peace this Christmas

Every year a word gets stolen from Jesus. Around Christmastime “peace” is highjacked from the narrative and mashed into the annual context, creating warm feeling inside for many Christmas patrons. You’ve probably noticed. Days after Thanksgiving friends and television shows and movies start using the word peace and sometimes more exactly “peace on earth” in equal fashion with terms like “cheer”, “merry”, and “the Christmas spirit”. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

From Pastor Jason: Expecting Jesus

Expectations have a snowball effect. You know what I mean? The longer a snowball rolls down a hill, the faster it goes and the bigger it gets. When I am waiting for something or anticipating something, the longer I have to wait the more powerful my expectations become. Sometimes this means I get more excited. Other times it means I am growing increasingly anxious, worried, or nervous. What I’ve discovered, regardless if I am expecting a big test, a doctor’s visit, or Christmas Day is that the more prepared I am the more pleasurable my expectations.