This book is used at Hope Bible Church as a resource for the new members’ study group to give people a proper orientation to some of the fundamental priorities of a local church. Instead of seeking after personal fulfillment like the surrounding individualistic culture, believers must refocus on the Christian core values of community and service.
The publisher summarizes:
In a world committed to self-seeking and the thirst for individual rights, it is hard to create a genuine community based on self-sacrifice and mutual commitment–but that is just what the church must do. In Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church seminary professor, author and former pastor Don Whitney shows how the local church can build a sense of community and turn church people from passive attendees into active participants.
In my typical Cliff Notes approach, I will just make some observations or highlight some points of interest from the various chapters:
Why Go to Church?
Certainly the church presents its own set of challenges and disappointments, but you can never escape the biblical imperative of assembling together as believers. What helps from the motivational side is a better understanding of the importance of church.
“If you can miss church and not miss church, then something is absent from your heart and faith.” (p.18)
“In ways that He does not do when we worship Him alone, God blesses us with strength, instruction, and encouragement when we come together at church to worship Him.” (p.25)
“you don’t have to look long or hard to find valid criticisms of any church. But mature thinkers realize this and love God’s church anyway.” (p.30)
Why Seek Baptism in the Church?
Many believers overlook the importance of baptism today. They miss the essential connection to publicly identifying with following Jesus Christ. They don’t see it as an initial step of obedience and commitment.
“Although baptism is never equated with faith or salvation in the New Testament, it is closely associated with both.” (p.33)
“To receive baptism in His name is like receiving a wedding ring. It marks you as one who belongs to Christ.” (p.33)
The symbolism of water baptism by immersion highlights many important fundamental truths about our relationship to Jesus Christ. I agree with the author’s insight that for some who struggle with assurance of salvation, submitting to the Lord in believer baptism can be a significant encouragement (p.40).
Why Join a Church?
The arguments in favor of formal church membership rosters back in NT times rather than a more informal union based on the degree of fellowship and participation are significant but not totally compelling. I am not convinced that the functions of discipline and pastoral oversight, etc. require a formal subscription to some type of covenant relationship. Likewise the metaphors used to describe the church (flock, temple, body, household) work better in homogeneous settings where you only have one true Christian church in a city (the church at Corinth, at Ephesus, etc.) rather than the present day diversity.
Still for the practical reasons listed in this chapter, commitment to a specific local church is essential for the mutual edification of the local body and the need for coming under the authority of spiritual leadership. The local church is God’s ordained spiritual accountability system for today. Certainly it would be wrong to function as a “spiritual hitchhiker… who wants all the benefits and privileges of that church’s ministry without taking any responsibility for it” (p.53).
Why Listen to Preaching in the Church?
“In defiance of the world’s wisdom that say no one wants to come to church and hear sermons, in defiance of the church marketing strategy that questions the value of traditional preaching and would rather replace it with something more visually stimulating, I want to contend from 1 Corinthians 1:21 that preaching is always relevant” (p.60).
“So as I talk about preaching, I am referring to a man of God publicly teaching God’s Word with exhortation and application” (p.62).
“Whenever a church allows anything else – drama, ceremony, music, video, concert, pageant, dance – to compromise the primacy of ‘the message preached,’ it’s a sign that it has lost confidence in the preaching of God’s Word” (p.68).
The author rightly points out that listening to messages on tapes, the radio, etc. does not have the same powerful dynamic as hearing the word preached in person within the context of the relationships of a local church. He points out the short-sightedness of families who base their church decision on the dynamics of the youth group rather than the essential feeding via the preaching of the Word of God.
Why Worship with the Church?
“There is a much more conspicuous and perceptible proclamation of God in congregational worship than in nature” (p.77).
“God delights in the devotion of every individual and in each moment of private worship, but we ascribe greater glory to Him when we join our hearts and voices together in a symphony of worship” (p.78).
“congregational worship is more edifying to you and others than solo worship.”
“God can be experienced in church worship in ways that He cannot in solitary worship” (p.83)
Why Witness with the Church?
“In a world where everyone has broken relationships, supernatural unity in a church family bears witness to the power of the gospel in a marvelously God-glorifying manner. And as necessary as individual witnessing is, it can never show unity as a congregational witness can” (p.92).
Apart from inviting unbelievers to attend either the public worship services or small groups meeting weekly in a house setting (such as some type of Seekers Bible study), there were not a lot of practical suggestions for how to implement this corporate type of witness. One good suggestion was the broadening of our care group ministries to make sure that we include participation (or at least observation) by non believers so that they could witness our unity in loving and caring for the practical needs of the body. I think we need more help here with the details of how to go about this from a corporate perspective.
“We need to recover the evangelistic power of loving relationships. Ask yourself, ‘How can I be part of a group showing unity and love in ways that non-Christians can see?’” (p.100).
Why Serve in the Church?
I have always identified with the clip from Chariots of Fire where Eric Liddell explains his passion and drive for doing what God has designed and equipped him to do – which in his case included both preparation to go to the mission field in China as well as competing as a long distance runner in the Olympics:
“I believe God made me for a purpose – China. But when He made me, He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” (p.110)
Many people have questioned why I bother to produce this internet ministry of BibleOutlines.com when I cannot directly see the results in the lives of those who are using the materials. In some sense, this emphasis goes counter to the thrust of this chapter which cries out for the primacy of serving in the local church context. Somehow, when I am at my desk trying to develop the next exegetical outline that lays open a section of God’s Word I get that same sense that I am fulfilling the purpose for which God created me. Yes, it is important to channel that gift of teaching through the ministry of the local church; but in my case it is also important to continue to develop the outlines that can be used on a world-wide stage.
Why Give to the Church?
“Giving to the church is not only an expression of worship to God, but also of fellowship with His people. In the church, shared giving is a part of shared life” (p.122).
He cautions against the errors of prosperity theology, “that is, that God wants every Christian to have earthly riches and that giving to God is a Christian’s way of getting wealth on earth” (p.131); but he maintains the balance that “a biblical case can be made regarding the generous blessing of God both for our needs in this life and our eternal joy in the next if we are generous and rightly motivated in giving to His work.”
Why Attend the Ordinances of the Church?
“What would you think if your family had a new baby born into it, and everyone related to you lived close by, but many of them had no interest in coming to the hospital or no interest in seeing the baby? Would you feel loved and accepted? No, you’d feel unloved and rejected by the family” (p.139).
“God does not call us to do anything that is purposeless or meaningless. If He ordains something, such as participation in the Lord’s Supper, than it is necessary for us, even if we don’t understand why” (p.145).
Why Fellowship with the Church?
“Emotionally healthy people crave community. God made us with that desire, and we seek to satisfy it in societies of all sorts” (p.147).
“But why should we fellowship with the members of a local church, especially if we’re in a church where we live far from other members, we have a constantly hectic schedule, or we have regular contact with believers outside a church setting?” (p.148)
– Quote from John MacArthur:
“Anybody in fellowship with Jesus Christ is also in fellowship with anybody else in fellowship with Jesus Christ. This is our common ground. It is not social, economic, intellectual, cosmetic, or anything else superficial. Our common ground is that which is pulsing through the life of every Christian – the heartbeat of God. Our common ground is that we possess a common eternal life and are children in the same family.” (p.149)
“Many Christians never seem to distinguish between socializing and fellowship” (p.150).
“Even so, fellowship is much like a bank in this regard: You must make deposits if you want to make withdrawals. Koinonia, by definition, isn’t a one-way relationship” (p.157).
Why Pray with the Church?
“What is true for united prayer between a husband and wife is also true for united prayer with the church. There is a potential for power and authority in corporate prayer that we forsake – while at the same time longing for answered prayer – when we forsake united prayer with the people of God” (p.167).
“If you long for more of the blessing of God upon the preaching of the Scriptures and the ministry of your church, and for more of God’s grace on your own life, then meet with your fellow believers and pray for it” (p.175).
Why Learn in the Church?
“Learning in the church allows for dialogue, modeling, hands-on practice, and other means of learning which must accompany and complement the academic side of discipleship” (p.181).
“None of us has all insight, all understanding, or all spiritual gifts. As a result many of the terms, doctrines, meanings, and applications of Scripture may remain indecipherable without the ‘codebreakers’ God has provided in the church” (p.186).
Why Research the Church?
“Be wary of a pastor who spends most of his sermon time telling stories. Some argue that since much of Jesus’ teaching was by means of parables then preachers today should maximize the use of stories to communicate biblical truth. Obviously Jesus did tell many parables. But there is a difference between divinely inspired parables told by the Son of God and a preacher’s stories. The job of the preacher today isn’t to tell stories as Jesus did, but to tell and explain the stories of Jesus, that is, the stories about Him as well as the ones He told. The recorded sermons of the apostles aren’t a series of stories strung together like beads on a string” (p.197).
I like to make this same argument regarding how Jesus quoted the Old Testament and used illustrations. He had the advantage of speaking as God’s prophet… even as God Himself – not exactly our pattern when it comes to just being faithful expositors of what God has already revealed.