Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ashamed of the Gospel Chapter 9: "I will build my church".


As MacArthur moves toward the conclusion of the book he keys in on Matthew 16:16-19  

Matthew 16:16–19 (NASB95)
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 
17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 
18 “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 
19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

He points out that, all though He is the pastor of a large church, he never sought to build a large church.  He reminds us that we can no more grow a church than grow a tree.  We can apply the principles for leading a church from God's word, but the growth is entirely up to Him.  

He includes a corrective to the teaching of the Catholic church that Peter is the Rock that the church is built upon along with the papal succession.  Instead he points out that Christ Himself is the Rock and He build Him church on Himself.  Nothing will stop the growth of His church.  We want to make sure, then, that we are not competing with Christ.  We simply need to be faithful to His Word through His Spirit and we can be a part of what He is doing.  

He shows that the keys to the kingdom here do not have to do with the priestly right of absolution, but instead with the church having the keys to heaven in the gospel message that we preach!  If we do Christ's work his way then we will through Him open heaven for all who believe!

He concludes by giving a list of the Marks of an Effective Church.  It is a great list and so I include it here:  

Marks of an Effective Church

It should be clear that the church is a supernatural work. Christ Himself—not marketing know-how, human cleverness, or church-growth techniques—adds to the church, causes its genuine growth, and blesses the church with health and vitality.
Numerical growth alone does not insure a healthy church. To be sure, growth is one of the signs of life, but as we have seen, size is no proof of God’s blessing or of a church’s spiritual health.
What are the signs of a healthy church? What are worthy goals for a church to pursue as we seek to let the Lord build His church His way? In closing, let me simply suggest a few marks of a healthy church. I have expanded on this list elsewhere, but perhaps this brief summary will be helpful for those seeking something besides marketing principles that can help a struggling church get on target. These, I believe, are the basic biblical principles that provide a blueprint for the church Christ builds:


Jesus’ own earthly ministry was invested primarily in eleven men who would become the core of leadership for the early church. Leadership is primary, and the principal requirement for church leaders is that they must be skilled teachers of the Word of God who are above reproach.
I would venture to say that the chief deficiency in most churches today is in this area of leadership. Too many churches ignore the spiritual requirements for leaders, and choose instead those who seem like strong natural leaders or motivators, are successful in business, have money, or wield influence. But church leaders are above all to be godly teachers, “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching … able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9).
First Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9 contain Paul’s profile of the kind of people who should be leading the church. Putting those two passages together, we come up with a comprehensive list of spiritual qualities pastors and elders must possess. They are to be above reproach, devoted to their wife, temperate, prudent, gentle, respectable, just, devout, hospitable, lovers of good, able to teach, not self-centered or self-willed, not quick-tempered or pugnacious, not contentious, free from the love of money, good managers of their own household, men with a good reputation among unbelievers—and mature believers, not recent converts. From that platform of godly example, they teach the Scripture and lead their people to Christlikeness.
Do those seem like extremely high standards? Yet those are the qualifications Scripture establishes. Churches that ignore those guidelines set themselves against God’s design and forfeit His blessing. To compromise on the issue of leadership is, as Charles Spurgeon would say, “the most suicidal act that a church can commit.”
Surely one of the tragic disasters of American evangelicalism in our generation is the ease with which a man can be restored to leadership after spiritually and morally disqualifying himself. It is not at all uncommon for Christian leaders to scandalize the church through gross moral failure, then step back into leadership almost before the publicity dies away. This is a fatal compromise of the biblical standard. It is one of the most pernicious results of modern pragmatism.
Am I saying there should be no restoration for a leader who fails morally and genuinely repents? Certainly there should be restoration to fellowship, but not to the role of an elder or pastor. Churches cannot abandon biblical standards to accommodate their leaders’ sin. The biblical requirements for leaders are purposely set high, because leadership must be by example. Those who scandalize the church are not above reproach. They are disqualified from leadership as long as their reproach remains. In cases involving sexual scandal or unfaithfulness, that may mean a permanent disqualification (Prov. 6:32, 33). The apostle Paul recognized that possibility. He wrote, “I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27).
If a church’s leaders fail in the matter of personal holiness, the church itself is discredited—no matter how orthodox its confession of faith. Those who ignore the biblical prerequisites for church leaders are building a structure with useless materials not in accord with the true foundation (cf 1 Cor. 3:10, 11). No matter how strongly we call for truth and righteousness, if our leaders’ lives don’t back it up, many will reject their teaching as hypocritical, or simply conclude that genuine godliness is optional.


There is certainly nothing wrong with a church that sets goals. In fact, a church must have some functional goals or it will have no direction.
But our goals for the church must be biblical. Wrong goals set a wrong direction, and that is as bad as having no direction—maybe even worse. What are biblical goals? They include worship, fellowship, spiritual growth, and evangelism. Those would be primary goals. More specific goals—such as strengthening families, offering biblical counseling, providing childhood education, and similar purposes—must be seen in light of how they help accomplish the primary goals. And they must be kept subordinate to the primary goals. For example, a church might have a notable music ministry or operate a Christian elementary school. If it does so just to boost attendance figures or to make money, those are not worthy goals. But if it sees the ministry as a means to strengthen the church family spiritually or extend the reach of the gospel, that is a legitimate goal. If we can evaluate every church ministry in light of how it promotes the primary goals, that perspective will help keep the church on track.


The church is not an arena where a professional minister is cheered on by lay people who are nothing more than spectators. The church should be discipling and training Christians for ministry. Church members, not just staff, are supposed to be ministering. That is the point of Ephesians 4:11, 12. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers are given to equip the saints to do the work of ministry.
All of this results from discipleship. Discipleship is the ministry of developing deeply spiritual friendships focused on teaching biblical truth, applying Scripture to life, and thus learning to solve problems biblically. It must be reinforced by a godly example, not just delivered as a set of academic precepts. Therefore, discipleship involves time and personal involvement with people. Jesus’ earthly ministry to His own disciples is the biblical model. The church must provide an environment that encourages that kind of discipleship at every level, from the pastor to the newest convert.


The church built by Christ will have a strong emphasis on evangelism, beginning with its own community and extending to the uttermost parts of the earth. The early church turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6). The Jewish leaders told them, “You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching” (Acts 5:28). In a short time their message penetrated the entire community.
Too many Christians think they have fulfilled their responsibility to be witnesses if they drive to church in a car that has a fish sticker on the bumper! Effective churches emphasize the importance of regular, personal outreach on every level.
Our church has been labeled in some circles as non-evangelistic. Yet we have a baptism service for new converts nearly every Sunday night. As they are baptized, people give their testimonies before the entire congregation. Do you know what brings most of these people to a saving knowledge of Christ? Their personal contact with faithful Christians. People in our church witness to their neighbors, co-workers, other parents in Little League, friends at school, people in the markets, their doctors, their attorneys, and everyone they meet. And over the years the Lord has blessed that one-to-one evangelistic activity to bring more people to faith in Christ than any service, program, or event we have ever sponsored.
If a church lacks this emphasis on outreach, it is doomed to stagnation, decline, and ultimately to failure. The means Christ uses to build His church is the faithful witness of Christians on His behalf.


In the church Christ is building, people are involved in one another’s lives. The church is not a theater where people go to watch what happens. People are not supposed to come in, sit down, walk out, and have no other involvement with the fellowship. We are not supposed to encourage anonymity and uninvolvement. Instead, we’re commanded to “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” (Heb. 10:24, 25).
“One another” is a repeated expression in the New Testament instructions to the church. Here is a sampling of some of these commandments:

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor” (Rom. 12:10).

“Be of the same [lowly] mind toward one another” (Rom. 12:16).

Do not judge one another, but determine not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way (Rom. 14:13).

“Be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus” (Rom. 15:5).

“Accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7).

“Admonish one another” (Rom. 15:14).

“Through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13).

“[Show] forbearance to one another in love” (Eph. 4:2).

“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).

“Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (Eph. 5:21).

“Regard one another as more important than himself” (Phil. 2:3).

“Do not lie to one another” (Col. 3:9).

Bear with one another and forgive each other (Col. 3:13).

“Encourage one another, and build up one another” (1 Thess. 5:11).

“Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another” (James 5:16).

“Fervently love one another from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).

“Be hospitable to one another without complaint” (1 Peter 4:9).

“Employ your spiritual gifts in serving one another” (1 Peter 4:10).

“Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5).

That list alone is infinitely more valuable than all the volumes on marketing techniques and user-friendliness that have ever been written. Those are the qualities of the church Christ is building. Like the builder Himself, the church that puts those “one anothers” in practice will be a caring, sensitive, and loving church. Add to that the proper exercise of spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:3–8; 1 Cor. 12:4–11; and 1 Peter 4:10, 11), and what will be produced will be a community conformed to the very image of Christ. But it will not be conformed to the world.


Modern society has unleashed an unprecedented onslaught against the family. Most of the major controversial issues in the news today—such as homosexuality, abortion, feminism, divorce, youth gangs, and so on—are direct attacks against the family. People’s families no longer are where their strongest loyalties lie. Few families function as units. This fragmentation of the family has undermined morality and stability throughout all of society.
The church cannot tolerate or accommodate this devastation. It must confront and correct, then train its families. Strong families are the church’s backbone. And strong families build strong individuals. We will pay a high price if we don’t make the family a priority. That means we must help our people develop solid marriages and sturdy families by teaching husbands to love and lead their wives (Eph. 5:25), wives to submit to their husbands (5:22), children to obey their parents (6:1), and parents not to exasperate their children but to nurture them in the Lord (6:4).


No church can remain healthy for long if the pulpit is not strong. And no pulpit is truly strong if the Bible is not the basis of the preaching. That, of course, has been the whole message of this book. But it is certainly worth emphasizing again. As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote:

The moment you begin to turn from preaching to these other expedients you will find yourself undergoing a constant series of changes. One of the advantages of being old is that you have experience, so when something new comes up, and you see people getting very excited about it, you happen to be in the position of being able to remember a similar excitement perhaps forty years ago. And so one has seen fashions and vogues and stunts coming one after another in the Church. Each one creates great excitement and enthusiasm and is loudly advertised as the thing that is going to fill the churches, the thing that is going to solve the problem. They have said that about every single one of them. But in a few years they have forgotten all about it, and another stunt comes along, or another new idea; somebody has hit upon the one thing needful or he has a psychological understanding of modern man. Here is the thing, and everybody rushes after it; but soon it wanes and disappears and something else takes its place.

This is, surely, a very sad and regrettable state for the Christian Church to be in, that like the world she should exhibit these constant changes of fashion. In that state she lacks the stability and the solidity and the continuing message that has ever been the glory of the Christian Church.

Biblical preaching cannot be geared toward meeting felt needs, solving psychological problems, amusing the audience, making people feel good about themselves, or any of the other hollow fads that have commandeered pulpits in this entertainment-oriented age. Biblical preaching must uphold the truth of God and demand that it be heeded. There is plenty of room for innovation and creativity within those guidelines, but the message itself cannot be altered or abridged in any way without prostituting the church’s responsibility. Truth proclaimed powerfully from the Scriptures is the sine qua non of the church. Any other kind of preaching is not worthy of the church Christ is building.


Healthy churches must be willing to change.
Wait a minute! someone says. Aren’t you appealing for traditionalism in churches? No. There’s nothing sacred about human tradition. I’m not in favor of staid formalism or hackneyed custom. I agree with those who warn that stagnation can be fatal to a church. I just don’t believe the church needs to abandon the centrality of the Word of God, the primacy of preaching, and the fundamentals of biblical truth in order to be fresh and creative.
 Someone has said that the seven last words of the church are, “We’ve never done it that way before!” An inflexible attitude is the bane of a healthy church. We must be willing to grow and adapt and try new things—but never at the expense of biblical truth, and never to the detriment of the gospel message.


I’ve saved worship for last, certainly not because it is least crucial but because it sums up all the others. Several years ago I wrote a book on worship titled The Ultimate Priority. I do believe that worship is the church’s—and the individual Christian’s—highest priority. True worship comprises and fulfills all these other characteristics of the church Christ builds. The church that sets its focus on God will find that all other things fall naturally into place.
Here is precisely the problem with the market-oriented, user-friendly, pragmatic approach to ministry: it is man-centered, not God-centered. Its concern is what people desire, not what God demands. It sees the church as existing for people’s sake rather than for God’s sake. It works from a faulty blueprint rather than fulfilling the plan of the Master Builder.
User-friendly, entertainment-oriented, market-driven, pragmatic churches will probably continue to flourish for a while. Unfortunately, however, the whole movement is based on current fashion and therefore cannot last long. When the fickle winds finally change, one of three things may happen. These churches will fall out of vogue and wane; or they will opt to change with the spirit of the age and very likely abandon any semblance of biblical Christianity; or they will see the need to rebuild on a more sure foundation. My prayer, of course, is that they will take the third course of action and not wait until worldliness and compromise have so permeated their fellowships that it becomes impossible to change.
Charles Spurgeon wrote, “It is hard to get leaven out of dough, and easy to put it in.… Oh that those who are spiritually alive in the churches may look to this thing, and may the Lord himself baffle the adversary!”

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