The book of Galatians famously lays out the one true gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in black and white. Why not visit us at All Souls Church for our upcoming sermon series to learn more about the good news of justification by faith. (Galatians series starts Sunday April 9th at 10:00 AM.)
Find out more about All Souls and our beliefs here.
"Do you do singing sermons?"
The above question came to me from an amiable furniture salesman I met while shopping for a new couch. Before I could answer he volunteered his views about singing sermons, "Pastor Janet, the new minister at my church - it's the church over on the corner just out here - do you know Pastor Janet? No? Well Pastor Janet always does a singing sermon at least once a month and it is to die for!"
Unsure how to respond to this man who described Pastor Janet's singing sermons in the way other people would describe chocolate cake I simply smiled and made a noise that was supposed to be sound like an interested "ah" but came out more or less like the a bleating sheep. Ignoring my bleat the salesman continued with a bright smile on his round, jovial face, "So, do you do singing sermons?"
"Well you see..." I began, "I... um... well, frankly the thing about it is..." and right then and there in the futon section I proceeded to share with him what the thing about it was. Namely, I had to let him in on the fact that I do NOT do singing sermons... a truth that left the man somewhat crestfallen.
I mention this story because it helps raise another question:
"What kind of sermons will I hear at All Souls Church?"
Here at All Souls Church we are committed to Expository Preaching – and particularly a method called “SCEOTS” or Systematic Consecutive Exposition of the Scriptures (a phrase that I believe originally comes from Leith Samuel’s autobiography, “A Man Under Authority”).
Face it! We are living in a Walmartized culture. And why not! Walmart provides a useful service, they offer their customers any product they could possibly want at rock-bottom prices. All of this is well and good in its proper place but what happens when Walmartized desires slip into other areas of life, like – say – the church? What happens when churches begin marketing themselves as little more than sanctified superstores offering a plethora of religious products and novelties to church-hunters who have become little more than religious consumers? When these things happen it is clearly time for those looking for a church to roll back their expectations. We need to remind ourselves that the church and Walmart are two distinct institutions just as consumerism and discipleship are two different outlooks.
In such a confusedly consumeristic culture what should a person be looking for in a church?
As a pastor I want to suggest that when looking for a church one must resist the temptation to ask “does this church have what I want” and one must instead ask, ‘what makes a church a church in the first place?’ Another way to ask this question is to say, ‘what are the true marks of a true church?’
The Reformed tradition of Christianity (of which I am part) encourages people to look for a church by raising this very question and likewise, the Reformed tradition provides a few helpful answers. According to the Westminster Confession of Faith (one of the historic Reformed statements of Biblical Christianity) true churches can be distinguished as those where:
“the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed (with) purity.”
In other words the three features that we in the Reformed tradition invite church-hunters to look for are:
1. Does this church teach and embrace the gospel?
2. Does this church faithfully administer the means of grace?
3. Is there purity in this church’s public worship.
Let’s consider each of these in turn:
1. Does this church teach and embrace the gospel?
When visiting a church your first question should be what does this church believe and why do they believe it. Attending a single service should be enough to give you some answer to this question. However, if you cannot get an answer to this question or if you can only get vague or clichéd answers chances are the church might not place a great emphasis on the gospel. This is a very tragic but very common situation in many churches.
There is nothing more important than understanding a church’s stance on the gospel. By “gospel” I mean “the good news of Biblical Christianity” and/or the entire body of Christian truth from Genesis to Revelation sometimes referred to as “Redemptive History.” Knowing a church’s stance on this should determine whether it is the church for you.
From a biblical standpoint all true churches of Jesus Christ should clearly and frequently articulate a few key concepts that are central to the gospel. Here are some example:
· That there is only one gospel (Galatians 1:8&9) – and therefore one true Savior and one true religion (i.e. the Christian faith)
· That the central figure of the gospel is God’s Son, the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:18-22)
· That the work of Christ can be summarized thus, “God made him who knew no sin to become sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Cor. 5:21).
· That all believers are saved by God-given grace through the God-given gift of faith. (Ephesians 2:8&9)
· That all people are sinners and can only be justified (made right with God) on the basis of Christ’s righteousness.
Regardless of the programs it might offer, the attractiveness of it’s facilities, the personality of its pastor, or the appeal of its worship music, if you visit a church and go away unclear as to its position on the gospel you should almost likely steer clear of it.
2. Does this church faithfully administer the means of grace?
When choosing a new church you should remember that God works through means. God has provided us with certain tools through which He promises to build His church, develop His people, and call sinners to salvation. We call these God-given tools “the ordinances of the Church” or “the means of grace” and the ministry of a true church will always have these means at its core. According to Acts 2:32-38, three of the means of grace that God has given for the maintenance and growth of His church are:
· Sacraments (Baptism & The Lord’s Supper)
Let’s take a moment to summarize each.
First, when visiting a new church listen carefully to the preacher and ask yourself; why does this man talk like this? What is he really saying? Please avoid the error of Walmartization at this point by asking yourself questions like; do I think this man a good public speaker, does this man move me emotionally, is this man “relevant” to me and my felt needs – ultimately these questions are of much less significance than the question of what is he actually saying.
The Bible teaches that preaching should be rooted in scripture itself. The man in the pulpit is not doing his job unless he is letting the text talk. If he is being faithful to the text of God’s word his sermon will reflect upon who God is and what God has done to graciously save sinners through the work of His Son. Preaching that fails to do this is not really preaching at all.
Second, as you look for a new church ask yourself what role do the sacraments have in its worship. Scripture teaches that the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are to occupy an important and regular part of the church’s life as a covenant community. The sacraments are God-given signs and seals of the covenant God has made with His people and they are intended to remind us of the promises of God, and of our communion with him and with one another. These are solemn, sacred, serious, and blessed ordinances that God has given to no other people on the face of the earth save His church. Realizing this, a faithful church will seek to administer the sacraments faithfully and regularly and will avoid the all too common error of down-playing the sacraments or dismissing them as mere religious traditions.
Thirdly you must determine is this church a praying church – prayer being another means of grace. The Bible shows us that prayer is one of the ways in which God humbles us and conforms our will to His will. The public prayers of God’s people lead by the pastor are a wonderful way for the whole church to express its dependence upon God and to acknowledge its trust in Him alone. In addition to this the Bible commands that God’s people pray and it gives fairly specific guidelines for how prayer should be used corporately. A faithful church, therefore, must be a prayerful church.
3. Is there purity in this church’s public worship?
Finally, when looking for a new church carefully inspect its worship. Perhaps no area of assessment is more fraught with the danger of a superstore mentality than this! Todays consumeristic culture has conditioned many church-hunters to deem a church’s worship as worthy only if it produces in its worshipers a glandular reaction of some kind – but this is clearly wrong. We must resist the urge to assess a church’s worship based upon personal desires, subjective impressions, emotional responses, cultural preferences or musical genres. The purity of a church’s worship is not to be measured by any of these things. It is only to be measured by Scripture. It is the Bible alone that tells us what is more or less pure concerning worship and therefore, what is more or less pleasing to God as we worship Him.
It is also very important to remember that worship is ultimately about the One being worshiped and not so much about the one’s doing the worshiping. In other words, worship is not a chance for us to receive what we demand as consumers but to give God what He deserves as redeemer. It is not about us, it is about Him. It is not to be constructed and conducted around the dictates of our preferences but around the direction and purity of His Word.
Well, there you have it.
Here are the marks of a true church. Here are the things to look for when choosing a church.
Ask yourself is this a place where:
1. The gospel is taught and embraced
2. The means of grace are faithfully administered
3. There is purity in the public worship of God
If so, regardless of your personal preferences I urge you to stop your church-hunt and settle down in this faithful community of God’s people. If this sounds overly simplistic, it is truly not meant to. No doubt, choosing a church in a Walmart culture is and will remain a challenging, sensitive, and deeply personal issue for you but if you make your decision in an informed way, taking into account the things written above, and looking to the Lord for guidance you will make the right decision as opposed to becoming yet another consumer looking for yet another sanctified superstore.
Have you ever watched a film with continuity problems?
A continuity problem is simply a jumble, a mishmash, an occurrence in which whatever is happening in a given scene has no meaningful, logical, or didactical connection with what proceeded it. One of the most glaring examples I’ve ever witnessed was in the 1968 cinematic-stinker, Girl in the Gold Boots. In one scene three characters are sitting at a diner having a conversation when a fourth actor inexplicably materializes out of nowhere and enters into the conversation as if he’d been there all along. It was a continuity problem so bad that I had to laugh out loud. Some continuity problems, however, are far from laughable especially when they are found within the Body of Christ – His Church. That is to say, when modern Christianity becomes more or less detached from the redemptive history that came before it, the church finds herself in a fairly difficult place. Indeed, recent studies show that many American Christians are leaving evangelical churches for other branches of Christianity with more seemingly solid historical foundations, such as Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, etc. If you are an evangelical facing this temptation let me prescribe a healthy dose of historic continuity.
Why Continuity Matters...
Americans are addicted to the latest fads and trends.
We are always on the lookout for the next big thing and eager to cast off yesterday’s styles as old fashioned, irrelevant, and out of date. In such an environment it is incredibly important that the Church embraces its innate transcendence while avoiding the temptation to rely upon trendiness. To be trendy today is to be irrelevant tomorrow – just ask Vanilla Ice.
Secondly, historical continuity matters because bible believing Protestants have a more solid historical foundation than any of the other branches of Christianity. Yes, the Protestant Reformation did not begin until the 16th century but it was at its heart a movement to return the Church to her historic, biblical, and apostolic roots.
Moreover, historical continuity matters because the Bible teaches that God’s redemptive purposes have been and are being worked out in history. The God of the Bible is involved in an ongoing, hands-on relationship with His creation and has been since He first spoke it into existence. Therefore a knowledge of redemptive history as well as a willingness to let this history inform our activities in the present is of tremendous importance for the modern evangelical church.
How to Identify Continuity Problems In Your Church...
How Continuity Problems Are Fixed...
We fix continuity problems by first reassessing our view of God.
It is important to note that a skewed view of God’s Redemptive activity in history stems from a skewed view of the Redeemer Himself. The God of the Bible is not the localized deity of 21st century America. He is the Lord of History and the transcendent Triune Creator who sustains, and upholds all things.
Secondly, we need to admit that we are by nature chronological snobs. We love to entertain the view that we are infinitely more sophisticated and clever than the generations who came before us. But are we? Not really. Therefore, we need to open the windows of our minds and allow the “breeze of the centuries” to air out all of our stale and snobbish 21st century thinking. We need to allow the saints of the past to enter into the conversations of the present. We need to read the bible not as a book of random fortune-cookie sayings but as a sweeping redemptive-historical drama. We need to return to the historic Reformed Confessions of the Christian faith (I highly recommend the Westminster Confession of Faith which is readily available online and in print). We need to attend churches where the ecumenical creeds of Christianity are confessed, believed, and reinforced through solid, consistent, expository preaching Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day.
These solutions will help us correct the unfortunate jumble and mishmash of continuity problems in the Church. Thank God that we in the 21st century are not alone on our own little desert island in time but we are the servants of the One who owns history itself.
Celebrate With Us March 1st @ 5PM
It is a great privilege and blessing to tell you that All Souls Church will celebrate its 1st birthday on Sunday March 1st. It is hard to believe that nearly 12 months have passed since we gathered for the first time in the vacant red-brick church building on the corner of Main Street and State Route 739 in the village of Green Camp, Ohio. Since that first Lord’s Day together our unofficial motto, and our constant prayer has been:
Floreat Antiqua Domus,
"May this old house flourish again."
Thus far, the old house has been flourishing and by God's grace it will continue to do so.
Thanks so much to those who have joined with us, visited with us, and prayed for us over this past year. Without the loving support of the greater Marion community, the devoted partnership of area churches, and the ongoing blessings of our great Triune God, All Souls would never have enjoyed such a wonderful 1st year of ministry, growth, and development for the glory of God and the good of His people.
If you are or will be in the North-Central Ohio area, won’t you please drop by on March 1, 2015 @5PM for an informal time of fellowship and goodies?
It will be great to see you!
In a bygone day children came to church dressed like little adults. They sat in pews alongside of adults. They sang the same hymns as adults. They were expected to be quiet, attentive, and reverent just like the adults. Of course, this arrangement required patience and charity on the part of the congregation... but I think this model made the Church of a bygone day much stronger than the average contemporary congregation.
Today in many parts of the church world the expectations we have of children are abysmally low. Is this because American Christianity’s view of children has been shaped more by American culture than by the Bible? I’m not sure. Whatever the reason, the result is that we no longer dress children like adults, we don’t ask them to sit alongside of the adults, and we certainly don’t think they are capable of singing the same hymns as adults…. And so we simply whisk our little prepubescent blobs of sunshine away to something called Children’s Church.
Is this wise?
Is this helpful?
More importantly, is this practice Biblically defensible?
Yes, I know that children are children and they can be restless and even disruptive during church services but is this sufficient reason to amputate children from Christ’s Body?
At All Souls Church we believe it is NOT. We believe children are to be welcomed into the Body of Christ just like adults. Yes, children do need to be instructed at their level, and we have special times set aside for this, but these times do not interfere with the corporate worship of Christ’s Body.
Here are a few reasons for our rationale:
Children are not merely the church of the future… they are the church of the present.
I’ve sometimes heard preachers talk about children as being “the future of the church.” But that is only half right… Surely they are the present of the church too. Therefore, if they are in the church shouldn’t they be ministered to as part of the church.
Someone from the peanut gallery objects, “But kids don’t have the understanding to get Big People Church.” This may be so, but since when have intelligence tests ever determined who we let into our services? Should the fact that children have the understanding of children be held against them? By this reasoning we could argue that the senile, the mentally retarded, or even the person who lacks a high school diploma should be excluded… but this would obviously be wrong. If there is any place on earth where the “weak and foolish” should be accepted with open arms, it is the church.
I contend that the church of the future depends upon children being ministered to in the church of the present.
Church must be “normalized” for children.
By this I mean that what happens in a typical Lord’s Day service needs to become part of a child’s regular experience. Yes, I understand that this is easier said than done. Kids are rambunctious and church is… well… strange. That is to say, what happens in church each Lord’s Day is NOT normal. Pastoral prayers, public scripture readings, corporate singing, sermons, etc., do not typically happen outside of a church setting and therefore MUST become normalized in the lives of our children. How does this happen? I can think of no better way than by simply giving children regular exposure to these things – i.e. having them sit through church services.
Unless children grow up in an environment where it is normal to see a man read the bible and where it is normal to listen to a sermon, they are very unlikely to see these things as normal when they become young adults. We’ve all heard teenagers dismiss church services as “weird” and perhaps we’ve wondered why. But wouldn’t you think church was weird too if you had spent the totality of your formative years being whisked away from normal Church to a world of flannel graphs, vacuous songs, and moralistic stories? I would… and for a long while I did, thanks to Children’s Church.
I contend that church must be normalized in the minds of children through their regular attendance of and participation in Lord’s Day Worship Services.
The regular means of grace are not just for big people.
The Lord has given His Church regular means of grace for their collective benefit. According to ch.21 of the Westminster Confession of Faith:
“The reading of the Scriptures... sound preaching… singing of psalms… receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God.”
Elsewhere we read that these things are done “to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church, and the rest of the world.” As far as I can tell this must include both the old and young of a given congregation. The Lord has placed no age limits on the means of grace.
I contend that the regular means of grace are for both big people and little people and are to be received together as one body.
We have no biblical warrant to segregate the Body of Christ.
For Americans, segregation is a painful word… that’s why I deliberately use it here.
America has a dark history of racial segregation and thankfully great strides have been made to right the wrongs associated with it. Sadly there were even many churches in the past who were segregated along the “color-line.” But as anyone with a modicum of Biblical knowledge knows, the Bible lends no support to the idea of racially segregated congregations. It’s bitterly ironic therefore, that we Christians are not quite as quick to recognize other forms of segregation. Surely age segregation within the Church has no more biblical warrant than racial segregation and I would contend that it is equally as destructive to the Church because it fragments the body of Christ. Surely, the old and the young are members of one body – Christ’s body.
I contend that God has designed it this way and that we need each other.
Why is it that we in the Church often times choose our leaders in stupid ways? We have empty positions (elder, deacon, trustee, etc.) and we are much more interested in who is willing to fill these position than who is qualified to fill them. Moreover, we don't seem to have any strategy to help people become qualified. Is there any other organization in the world that operates like this and expects to survive?
Can you imagine the Fortune 500 company that says to its employees:
“Hands up anyone who wants to volunteer for leadership… we’ve got a few open slots to fill?”
And yet this is exactly how many churches - particularly small churches - go about choosing their leaders. And larger church aren't doing much better. They typically tend to have budgets big enough to cobble together a multimember "professional" staff to oversee the various niche ministries offered by their respective church. While this might serve a pragmatic end and meet the needs of a large and diverse congregation one wonders if this approach more or less bypasses the biblical mandate to "equip the saints to do the work of the ministry" (Ephesians 4:12).
With these things in mind I want to suggest that any church, large or small, need only look to the bible to find a reliable leadership model. Nowhere in the Bible will anyone find that church leadership is merely about filling slots - regardless of whether those slots are filled by volunteers or professionals. We are never to merely fill slots! Church leadership is a serious matter and thankfully God has not left us in the dark about it. In the Bible we draw out the following basic principles about leadership in the local church - they are to be detected, developed, and deployed.
Let me explain:
1) Detecting: The elders and pastor of a local congregation should actively be on the lookout for perspective new elders and deacons to join them in the shepherding care of God's people.
2) Developing: Each local church should have a well designed mechanism for mentoring and training perspective leaders in various areas including – the biblical qualifications for leadership (I Timothy 3 & Titus 1), the doctrinal standards and distinctives of the church, and the organizational and operational norms of local leadership.
3) Deploying: Men who are qualified to lead and who are trained to lead must be turned loose to lead.
Since All Souls Church is a fairly new church plant we needed to come up with a strategic program to help us accomplish these things - and we did so! Early in the Autumn of 2014 we launched a nine month course of study called F.I.O.T. (the Fraternal Institute for Officer Training). Our inaugural class is almost halfway through their coursework this year and they are doing excellent work. I have been both encouraged and blessed in the fellowship I have shared with my F.I.O.T. brothers.
The stated rationale for F.I.O.T. is as follows:
Our belief is that if All Souls Church is to be governed by Biblical and Reformed principles, and is to continue in its commitment to the faith once for all delivered to the saints, then it is necessary that all men seeking the office of elder or deacon should be committed to Christ, His Word and the church. Therefore FIOT will seek to accomplish two things.
1) It will equip perspective office-bearers to serve, if elected, with all of the knowledge and resources necessary for the fulfillment of the office.
2) It will ensure that all potential elders can make an honest, informed, and wholehearted affirmation of their ordination vows if and when they are given the opportunity.
Some people might say that a 9 month course of study is a little much... but in my opinion it beats the pants off the "hands up whoever wants to lead" model of church leadership!
"A Lesson From A Sandwich"
In my own experience I have heard church leaders say things like:
“Unbelievers don’t know or understand hymns or metrical psalms – so let’s ignore these things!”
“Unbelievers don’t understand the Bible – so let’s either keep our readings brief or avoid the book altogether!”
“Unbelievers are uncomfortable with lengthy public prayers – we’ll keep them short!”
“Unbelievers are suspicious of preaching – so let’s make sermons short and ‘relevant.’ We’ll talk about … say… hot- button political issues, heartache, self-improvement, mere-morality, or the challenges of raising teenagers.”
And so the mistakes continue to multiply until the final product is as strange as my Mc Fillet O’ Chicken.
So how do we correct this?
By starting in the right place – with the first component of worship.
What is it?
Simply this; we must believe that Lord’s Day worship is not about unbelievers. It’s not about their wants, their musical tastes, their felt-needs, or anything else. Lord’s day worship is about God, His wants, His commands, His requirements. The concern of the worship of the Church is to please the Lord of the Church – our Faithful God who has taken great pains to reveal Himself in His Word. Our prayers, our praise – every element of our worship services – must be in accordance with the Scriptures. Above all the Word of God must be faithfully preached as the climatic act of public worship. Why? Because in faithful, expository preaching the Triune God of the Universe condescends to speak to His people.
Yes! Let the unbelievers in the door each Sunday! By all means, compel them to come in! But when they do, ensure that they get a glimpse of the glory of our God, a fearful understanding of His might, and a grasp of His wonderful grace in Christ Jesus. Whatever we do, let’s not stroke the affections of unbelievers, let’s not try our best to put them at ease, let’s not say to them through word or deed, “Now we know that you’re not interested in Christianity or the church so we have something else for you today.” No! The fact is, we DO NOT have anything else for them. If they don’t want our Savior who are we to suggest to them ways of spicing up their marriage? If they won’t hear our gospel who are we to offer them rules of conduct to make their jobs more satisfying? At the end of the day, all we have to offer them is a Prophet to teach them, a Lamb to take away their guilt, and a Shepherd-King to guide and protect them. In a word, all we have to offer them is the One we gather to worship each Lord’s Day – and He is enough. Yes, of course, we want our worship to be marked by intelligibility and clarity. But no! We do not want our worship to feel casual or “normal” to the unbeliever. Because what happens Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day is anything but “normal.” The great covenant making God is condescending to meet with His people once more in a special way. He is meeting with them around Word and Sacrament. He is renewing His covenant with them. Here is the Triune God in the midst of a people once dead in trespasses and sins who He has raised to newness of life. Here is the Triune God calling His people together and graciously giving the unbelieving world yet another sign that the Kingdom of God has indeed come. This is anything but “normal” and cannot truly be conducted casually if it is to have the ring of authenticity about it
As British pastor Geoffrey Thomas wrote in and article entitled Goat-Sensitive Worship:
“If the style and mode of our expression when we meet in God’s presence is just like that which the goats hear in the office or in the schoolyard life then we have failed them. We whom the Lord is seeking and saving are sensitive to their real needs... So our worship will be simple, spiritual, substantial, warm, reverent, characterized by free prayer, great hymns and metrical psalms climaxed in expository preaching and anchored in proven forms that quickly gain familiarity and so become better means of channeling people to the God we are serving, and away from noticing clever servants who are speaking.”
By the way, when I realized my Mc Fillet O’ Chicken was all wrong I exchanged it for a proper one. I would urge you by God’s grace to do the same.
Rev. R Crabtree
"...a son, a husband, a father of 6, a friend, a Presbyterian