Tag Archives: jason dohm

How Should We Think About Birthdays?

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

Studying to preach on Matthew 14 has me thinking about birthdays. There are two, and only two, birthday celebrations mentioned in the Bible. The first is Pharaoh’s birthday feast, recorded in Genesis 40:20-22, where Pharaoh restores his chief butler and has his baker hanged. The second is Herod’s birthday celebration, recorded in Matthew 14:6-11 (parallel account in Mark 6:21-28), where John the Baptist’s head is brought on a platter.

Suffice it to say, the celebrating of birthdays is off to a rough start. And why not? Birthdays have always been a me-me-me proposition anyway, have they not?

Now consider the thoughts of John Calvin:

“The ancient custom of observing a birth-day every year as an occasion of joy cannot in itself be disapproved; for that day, as often as it returns, reminds each of us to give thanks to God, who brought us into this world, and has permitted us, in his kindness, to spend many years in it; next, to bring to our recollection how improperly and uselessly the time which God granted to us has been permitted to pass away; and, lastly, that we ought to commit ourselves to the protection of the same God for the remainder of our life.” – Calvin’s commentary on Matthew 14:6

That is a different angle entirely, and one worthy of some reflection. Calvin counsels us to use birthdays as a tool to do three things:

  1. Thank God for life. Life doesn’t result from boy-meets-girl. It is a gift from God. David declares this in Psalm 139:14, “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.” We have something to celebrate: God gave us life and has sustained us for another 365 days. That is praiseworthy, worth a day of intentional thankfulness.
  2. Reflect on the use of time. There may be no better day for taking inventory. How are we investing these lives God has given us? In Matthew 25:14-30, the parable of the talents, one man exercises good stewardship, turning his five talents into ten, and he is greeted by his Master, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Another man buries what his Master has given him, and his Master calls him wicked, lazy, and unprofitable and casts him out. Ephesians 5:15-16, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”
  3. Commit ourselves to God. Don’t we need to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Don’t we want to? Then let birthdays be days of pleading with God for progress, consecrating ourselves to His use in the coming year. As Paul writes in 2 Timothy 1:12b, “…I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.”

It is small wonder that pagan kings use their birthdays for all manner of self-serving wickedness. The people of God, however, are a peculiar people, turning our sights to our glorious God and King at every opportunity. A birthday is one such opportunity. Use birthdays to acknowledge God as the giver and sustainer of life, to reflect on the use of the past year, and to commit to His good pleasure as many years as He would be pleased to give.

Thinking Differently About Small Compromises

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

Our current circumstances relating to church discipline have me reinspecting my own life and patterns, and I know I’m not alone. Every one of us should be looking for the little root of sin that, left undisturbed, will grow into something monstrous which strips from us so many of the things we should cherish and jealously protect. Undoubtedly one of the reasons God has brought the present circumstances to us is so that we would wake up and ruthlessly pluck out those roots in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul says this in Romans 8:12-14,  “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” Did you catch that? If we are sons and daughters of God, we will be led by the Spirit to put to death the deeds of the body.

Or as my favorite commentator, J.C. Ryle says, “Nothing darkens the eyes of the mind so much, and deadens the conscience so surely, as an allowed sin… Take my advice, and never spare a little sin.  Israel was commanded to slay every Canaanite, both great and small. Act on the same principle, and show no mercy to little sins.”

Most of us have known this in our minds for many years, but I doubt we have known it as deeply or as urgently as we know it today. Depth and urgency are good, and we should praise God for being so merciful in teaching us. Ignoring this shot across the bow would be to our shame and harm.

So what is the little compromise you should have treated as a mortal enemy, but instead have hidden away and fed enough to keep alive? It is not your friend, you know. When the time is right, it will treat you as a mortal enemy, strip you bare, humiliate you, and leave you for dead. Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, identify that small compromise, call it what it is, and put it to death by the Spirit.


Decades of Faithful, Sustained Focus

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

A thirteen hour drive to Pensacola was one of the best investments in recent memory. The return on those invested hours? A front row seat at a ministry that squeezes a lot out of a little. If you have ever read any of the tremendous literature printed and distributed by Chapel Library, you know the treasures in which they traffic. But if you actually saw first hand how much they do with a very few hands in an unassuming building tucked away in a small corner of town, it would get you thinking about your own church in your own town.

The Ministry

Chapel Library distributes over 800 titles, all rock-solid works that form an invaluable body of help and encouragement for the people of God all around the world. Prime example: I was there with five brothers from Malawi, Africa, and when the tour made it around to the shipping dock, there sat a pallet of literature ready for the long trip to their little book shop in Malawi, literature that is helping advance the kingdom of God in that African country. And all this without selling anything, being totally funded by what God sends them through people who are moved to give.

The Secret

God is the secret, and a poorly kept secret He is, at least in our circles. He does whatever He pleases, and it often pleases Him to accomplish mighty things through very surprising vessels. Frequently the vessels themselves are the most surprised, not that God is doing something great, but that He would condescend to use them. In this case, it all started with one man’s simple, clear vision, a vision that is alive and well a generation later. The man is gone, but the work is more significant than ever. And how did one man with a mimeograph in the basement evolve into a ministry which is a significant producer of reformed Christian literature? A few people had it clear in their minds what they should do. And they did it. Then they did it some more. And some more. For a long time. And with this faithful, sustained focus, ten titles became fifty, a hundred, eight hundred, and all the while the number of shipping addresses kept doubling.

What About Us?

Having seen first hand what can be accomplished when God is pleased to mobilize a small group of His people for persistent focus in a particular area of need, I can’t help but daydream about the possibilities in our little corner of the world. We should pray that God would give us a clear vision of where He would have us chip away for the next few decades. And when He does, let’s get after it, prayerfully, circumspectly, but also vigorously, passionately, and tenaciously. As Paul says in Galatians 6:9, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”

In a sea of “flavor of the year” churches, where most of us have the attention span of a gnat, Mount Zion and their decades of faithful, sustained focus on building Chapel Library for the glory of God is inspiring.  May God continue to direct and bless their work, and may He be pleased to do something as significant with us.


Bible Translation and Some Implications

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

Early this year, our elder team gave every family at Hope Baptist a copy of this great little book by William Einwechter, which has been made available online by our friends at Chapel Library.

Since that was prior to the planting of Sovereign Redeemer, I thought it would be useful to highlight this book again, and to offer a very brief summary. WARNING: The summary won’t deliver the full benefit, and shouldn’t be viewed as a substitute for the full read, especially since the entire book can literally be read in a couple of hours.

Einwechter structures the book around two essential pillars:

1. Verbal-Plenary Inspiration.

Simply put, this means that the unit of inspiration is the individual word. With perfect precision and intentionality, God chose every word of the Bible. IMPLICATION: Don’t mess with the words. KJV, NKJV, NASB, ESV, and The Geneva Bible are prominent translations that embrace the verbal-plenary inspiration of Scripture. Alternatively, NIV and HCS are examples of translations that have departed from this principle in favor of “thought for thought” translation, so that the thought becomes the unit of inspiration, instead of the individual word. I won’t be addressing translations towards “The Message” end of the spectrum. Those are more commentary than translation, and frequently bad commentary at that.

Jesus understood the Bible to be infallibly reliable (inspired by God) not only down to the word, but even down to the verb tense. With a lot on the line, Jesus rests the entire weight of His argument against the Sadducees on a single verb tense. “But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:31-32). If the “am” could be “was”, Jesus’ argument comes apart at the seams. No matter. Jesus stands with confidence on the present tense of that one verb.

Likewise, Paul understood the Bible to be infallibly reliable even down to singular vs. plural. In Galatians 3:16, Paul makes his argument based on whether God’s promise to Abraham was to one Seed or many seeds. “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ.”

SUMMARY: Sticking close to Jesus and Paul and their view of inspiration is always a good thing.

2.  Providential Preservation.

So far, most readers have probably been able to stand up and cheer. This is the part where you may encounter implications that you haven’t considered before, and where your translation of choice might get gored. Of the translations which hold to verbal-plenary inspiration, KJV, NKJV, and The Geneva Bible are founded on providential preservation, while NASB and ESV have taken a different course.

Providential preservation affirms that God has sovereignly provided His people with uninterrupted access to the inspired Hebrew and Greek texts. More plainly and to the point, never for a single day, let alone hundreds of years, have the people of God been kept from the inspired texts because those texts were hidden away in a cave. Providential preservation holds steadfastly to a view that God is not only able to do this, but also abundantly willing, and more than willing based on His regard for His own word.

Psalm 138:2b reads, “For You have magnified Your word above all Your name.” Think about that for a minute. God has magnified His word even above His name, a name not to be taken in vain, a name that is to be hallowed.

Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matthew 24:35).

Admittedly, neither verse explicitly says that God could not have a reason in His wisdom why He would keep the inspired Hebrew and Greek texts from His people through the centuries, but what basis do we have for that conclusion, especially given the alternative. The alternative is that men – yes, very learned men, and in some cases very godly men, but nonetheless men – have been able to determine that some texts are older and therefore better than the texts available to the church of God throughout the centuries. Says who? Says them.

I view this as bad theology, but it is also a concept with other practical problems which Einwechter underscores in the book. This process of textual criticism – preferring “better” texts based on presumed age or other evidence – has given us a patchwork of underlying texts (particularly for the New Testament) different from anything used by the church before now.

I’ll take my stand with who I understand the God of the Bible to be, and how I see Him relating to His people, thanks. Every day and all day long.

SUMMARY: Door #1 is God preserving His inspired word for His people in every age; Door#2 is men looking at all of the ancient texts and determining which ones are best in which spot. Uh…


The elders aren’t insisting that you throw away your stack of ESVs. I like my ESV and use it every week for comparison purposes. But we do want to raise awareness of the issues and implications, so that you understand why we defend, prefer, and use a translation in our corporate gatherings that affirms both verbal-plenary inspiration and providential preservation.

I had never thought about some of these things prior to reading the book. But I read the book, I read it critically, and although I haven’t adopted every one of the conclusions (Einwechter prefers the KJV), I found the arguments to be very, very solid and I strongly hold to the two key principles outlined. And while many of the actual translational differences seem to be very minor, we should never think that it doesn’t matter.

Every jot and tittle matters, at least to Jesus and Paul. If nothing else, that should make us think.

One in a Million?

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

About a year ago, I raised my hand to say I wanted to lead the planting of a church, to be set aside to labor in the word (1 Timothy 5:17), to be fully dedicated to a local church. You can image the checking of motives that happens when a person starts to have those rumblings in the soul. Is there anyone who doesn’t suffer from occasional moments of self-aggrandizement and delusions of grandeur?

At the end of the soul searching, our family pressed forward with eyes wide open. Though I have some gifts, they are not more in number or degree than those of most other men. I will never be the “draw” that brings together a large church. But that isn’t what the body of Christ needs anyway. So while I happily acknowledge that my limitations keep me from being “one in a million,” I can be “one of a million” as God raises up many, many men of normal ability who have been forgiven much and therefore love much. By and large, these are the sort of men that God is giving the church to help and care for His people. I see it happening. I frequently meet these men from all around the country. I am daily with some of them in our own church body. I thank God for His kindness to His people.

So while there is a trend towards “one in a million” mega-pastors (please read this incredibly insightful post), God is leading a mighty but less visible counter-trend, and I am so happy to be a millionth of it.

Kevin DeYoung, a pastor associated with The Gospel Coalition, commented on this in late 2010. The entire post is well worth reading, but I’ll give you my favorite line, where he defines an ordinary pastor as “the pastor who flies under the evangelical radar, the pastor who labors in an ordinary place with ordinary people who don’t give a rip about the evangelical radar or if their pastor is on it, so long as he is with them.”

I recently finished Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor, and Baxter noted a similar move of God in his own day, the mid sixteen hundreds, where he witnessed a dramatic shift within little more than a decade of time:

“Sure I am, the change is so great within these twelve years, that it is one of the greatest joys that ever I had in the world to behold it. O how many congregations are now plainly and frequently taught, that lived then in great obscurity! How many able, faithful men are there now in a county, in comparison of what were then!… And, in particular, how mercifully hath the Lord dealt with this poor county of Worcester, in raising up so many who do credit to the sacred office, and self-denyingly and freely, zealously and unweariedly, lay out themselves for the good of souls! I bless the Lord that hath placed me in such a neighbourhood, where I may have the brotherly fellowship of so many able, faithful, humble, unanimous, and peaceable men. O that the Lord would long continue this admirable mercy to this unworthy country!”

A hearty “Amen!” to that, and may God make this our truthful testimony as we look back on this decade and the next.

May God give His church a million faithful, hard working shepherds. Men who know their limitations and can cheerfully say, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:10a). Men who know it is God’s church and that He is mighty on behalf of His people. And for all such men, may there be an abundance of Christians who have an insatiable appetite for the kind of walk that is so wonderfully helped along by such shepherds.

Peter continues to exhort: “The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Peter 5:1-4).

To close by repeating the words of Richard Baxter, “O that the Lord would long continue this admirable mercy to this unworthy country!”

Martin Luther’s Conclusion on “Free Will”

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

Today I finished Martin Luther’s The Bondage of the Will.  The great reformer summarizes his defense of the doctrines of grace as follows:

“I shall here draw this book to a conclusion:  prepared if it were necessary to pursue this Discussion still farther.  Though I consider that I have now abundantly satisfied the godly man, who wishes to believe the truth without making resistance.  For if we believe it to be true, that God fore-knows and fore-ordains all things; that He can be neither deceived nor hindered in His Prescience and Predestination; and that nothing can take place but according to His Will, (which reason herself is compelled to confess;) then, even according to the testimony of reason herself, there can be no “Free-will” – in man, – in angel, – or in any creature!

Hence: – If we believe that Satan is the prince of this world, ever ensnaring and fighting against the kingdom of Christ with all his powers; and that he does not let go his captives without being forced by the Divine Power of the Spirit; it is manifest, that there can be no such thing as – “Free-will!”

Again: – If we believe that original sin has so destroyed us, that even in the godly who are led by the Spirit, it causes the utmost molestation by striving against that which is good; it is maifest, that there can be nothing left in a man devoid of the Spirit, which can turn itself towards good, but which must turn towards evil!

Again: – If the Jews, who followed after righteousness with all their powers, ran rather into unrighteousness, while the Gentiles who followed after unrighteousness attained unto a free righteousness which they never hoped for; it is equally manifest, from their very works, and from experience, that man, without grace, can do nothing but will evil!

Finally: – If we believe that Christ redeemed men by His blood, we are compelled to confess, that the whole man was lost:  otherwise, we shall make Christ superfluous, or a Redeemer of the grossest part of man only, – which is blasphemy and sacrilege!”

Of course, this is only his very brief conclusion, having firmly established each point through the careful exegesis of Scripture, and addressed the counter arguments, throughout the course of the book.

Suffice it to say, for all of us who have wondered about the sovereignty of God and free will (that would be all of us), Luther’s classic is a “must read”.  And for all of us who even today need to defend basic reformation doctrines against the likes of Michael Pearl, who denies total depravity and calls the theology of Luther and Calvin, which is simply the theology of Jesus and His apostles, “ancient heresy”, it remains an invaluable resource.

How Fathers Transition into Age-Integration

Yessir, this is a topic I know a little about.

It was more than a decade ago that I was teetering on this precipice myself. Janet and I had decided to take our two young daughters and go participate in a family-integrated church plant. Mostly oblivious to what was ahead of us, I was extremely gung-ho, but I could tell that Janet had some unspoken reservations. I couldn’t imagine what they were.

They were me. I was the unspoken reservation. When I drew it out of her, she sheepishly admitted that she was concerned that we might be moving on from a beloved church, albeit one with a flawed discipleship structure, only to have less discipleship anyway. What we had, with whatever flaws, was something, and she needed to be confident that it wasn’t going to be replaced with nothing. Ouch. Double ouch. It pierced because it was legitimate. I knew me. She knew me. And we both knew that there was a lot of the love of the world still left in this young father, and a track record to prove it.

Needless to say it was “game on” (or maybe literally “game off”, but more on that in a minute), not because I was resisting what she was saying but because I was embracing it. It was now so clear in my mind that with this move to a new church, I was now the difference between more discipleship for our family or less, and it wasn’t going to be less.

It didn’t happen all at once, but I did learn to be more and more faithful in my duty before God as a husband and father. I’m not claiming to be the ideal, but there has been real, significant progress, and it has meant the world to the life of the Dohm family. I thank God that He has seen fit to bring us to this point, by making me feel the weight of my Biblical calling.

Looking back, I have a few exhortations to fathers who are teetering on their own precipice:

Institute family worship today

When God gives us light to walk by, we need to act. Not tomorrow, today. In the category of family worship, skip the lengthy planning cycle, forget about the external helps from the Christian book store, and simply gather your wife and children to pray, read the Bible, discuss the text, and sing. Today. I’m not against planning, I’m for it. I’m not against helps, I’m for them. What I’m against is putting off the most important thing in the life of your family until tomorrow, and then the next day, and then the next, not because more time is needed to gather yourself for the mission, but because we all have a natural aversion to pushing beyond our comfort zone. Better to be uncomfortable and a little incompetent today, but to serve notice to your beloved comfort zone, than to chicken out with a transparent excuse. Don’t worry,  every day that you meet the challenge you’ll become a little more comfortable and a little more competent.

One note: If you haven’t been leading family worship for your whole married life, understand that you may need to be patient with your wife. She is going to want to see that this is really a permanent change, and until she does, she might be lukewarm. Blame yourself and be patient.

Make that practice the immovable rock in your daily schedule

Deuteronomy 6:4-7, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.”

What part of “You shall teach them diligently to your children” do we not understand? And yet, until we are willing to fight hard to establish the pattern, we find that any little thing can bump family worship. Family worship must become that non-negotiable, immovable rock in the schedule around which everything else rotates. Everything. Every single thing.

“My work schedule won’t accommodate it.” Shift your family schedule to make it work. Eat dinner at 8:00, put the kids to bed at 10:30, and let them sleep in to a later time that completes the schedule shift.

“That still doesn’t work.” Then find another job. Radically change your family budget, move into a trailer, and worship God there. “Seriously?” Seriously. Do it because you fear God. Do it for the joy that this established pattern, done rightly, inevitably brings. At the end of your days you won’t regret it.

Having this pattern firmly established will also make Sunday morning a lot better. Your kids will already know the drill, having been expected to sit quietly and attentively during family worship through the course of the week.

Decide to grow up

May I say a few things that everyone knows but no one wants to say? Too many men are just large, hairy boys. When the Dohm family took the plunge and committed to our first family-integrated church, I was still a boy in so many ways. A thirty year old boy, but still a boy. A boy with a steady job and some church responsibilities, but still a boy. A Christian boy, but still a boy.

I was wasting volumes of time doing boyhood things. But my wife needed a man for a husband, and my girls needed a man for a Daddy, and I knew I had to grow up. To my shame, it was long overdue. In a day when Christian leaders want to help us not waste our sports, they should back up, take a deep breath, and tell us not to waste our lives. We all have a window of time to teach our children diligently about our great, merciful, just, and holy God, and that window is shorter than we ever imagined and closing a little every day. Sideline that lawful, unprofitable stuff and get going on things that matter.

Final thought

There are many other things to say, but none of them are as important as these things, at least in my estimation and experience. If you get these things in order, the other things are accomplished readily enough. Without these things, the others don’t matter anyway.

I know these things look daunting from the outside, but I want to tell you that they are so exhilarating from the inside. Give it a serious go and I’ll be proven right. You get a sense very early on that you were made for this, to rally your family around God and His word, so that they might come to know a mighty Redeemer, and then come to know Him and love Him in a deeper way.

Go for it, brothers. There is nothing like it.


Blessing Awaits Those Who Cross Two Lines

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

This series of posts about church membership has focused primarily on Scripture, providing Biblical underpinnings for the practice.  Now a few personal observations, based on three decades of church life spanning a number of different churches.

Observation 1:  Two Critical Questions Form Two Critical Lines in the Sand

When I look at how casual local church life has become, with people drifting from church to church in far less time than it takes to be genuinely shepherded and involved in the lives of the brethren, I see two questions going continually unanswered:

  1. Can I submit myself and my family to the doctrine and authority of these leaders?  This is a BIG decision, and it shouldn’t be made overnight.  You have to know the doctrine.  You have to know the men.  And then you have to decide whether or not it would be a good thing for you and any in your charge to be under that teaching and authority over the long haul.
  2. Can I commit myself to these people?  Let’s face it – there are groups of people where you can see yourself making a thirty year investment, and groups of people where a pleasant afternoon together is both nice and enough.  And you know in your heart of hearts that the long term destination will be very different, depending on which you pick.

When we don’t stick around long enough to answer these questions, there are corresponding lines in the sand that we never cross, and it means that we never really commit.  We become the Christian equivalent of that forty-five year old guy who has dated so many women and will only ever do more of the same.  He has lots of great jokes, but everyone understands how pathetic his life really is.

As quickly as possible, we should find a home where we can answer “yes” to both questions and run-not-walk across those lines.

Observation 2:  It Matters

This is no intellectual exercise, the parsing of a fine point that has little impact on real life.  Whether you will or will not answer those two questions, cross those two lines, and send roots down deep into a good local church will determine so much about the welfare of your soul.

The person who carefully chooses a local church home where they can joyfully submit to godly leaders and invest in the lives of other sincere believers, and then stays on that track for decades, becomes a very different person than the counterpart who never really lands.  Being in serious, committed fellowship with both authorities and peers for a long period of time has a transforming effect.  There is no substitute.  The transformation requires the investment.

The “me and Jesus” mentality has not been good for the church.  We need more “God and His people” in both thought and life.

Observation 3:  Those Who Dare to Cross the Lines Are Blessed

Those who cross those lines find themselves really shepherded, really taught, sometimes rebuked, really encouraged, really known.  They find themselves really loved and cared for by God in the everyday means that He has ordained for His church.  And they have the privilege of responding in kind, both to God and to their brothers and sisters.

Am I saying that those who won’t cross those lines, in the form of church membership, aren’t blessed?  Yep.  Not blessed.  Not in the same way.  Not to the same extent.  Can they still be Christians?  Of course, but not the Christians that they should have been, would have been, could have been.

Brothers and sisters, go for the blessing!  Go see the beauty of God working in your life and the lives of your brothers and sisters, in a faithful community, for a period of decades.  With very few exceptions, this is what God has called His people to, for His glory and our good.  May we be faithful!

The Regulative Principle Requires Church Membership

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

Does the Regulative Principle of Worship support or nullify local church membership? Because there is no express command for church membership, some argue that it is extra-Biblical, but that is a misunderstanding of the actual doctrine.  Simply stated, the Regulative Principle of Worship says that everything we do in the corporate worship of God must be clearly warranted by Scripture, either in the form of an explicit command, or by a good and necessary inference.  Church membership is actually a necessary inference of many things which are well established in Scripture.

In my last post, I made the case that local church life is serious, and that the nature and seriousness of these Scriptural obligations require order.  This is not a pragmatic argument based on efficiency, perceived benefits, or any other “because it works” reasoning.  It is an acknowledgment that we have been given clear commands where obedience requires an underlying mechanism.

Consider church discipline, which is in short supply today, but is nonetheless a vital New Testament teaching.  Matthew 18:15-17 outlines the process, where at the appropriate step the offense is told to “the church”, a distinct, defined entity, a body with boundaries.  Then, unless there is repentance, there is formal exclusion from the church, something which is made more explicit in the specific case of church discipline recorded in 1 Corinthians 5:1-7.  In that passage, the language of formal exclusion is inescapable – “taken away from among you” in verse 2, “deliver such a one to Satan” in verse 5, “purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump” in verse 7.  Have you ever thought of the absurdity of formal exclusion without formal inclusion? There can be no excommunication without some form of communication, which is exactly where the phrase “communicant membership” comes from.  Only those who have been brought in can be put out.

This becomes even more obvious when we examine the happy ending, where Paul exhorts the Corinthians to welcome the excommunicated man back into the church.  In describing the excommunication, Paul says, “This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man…” (2 Corinthians 2:6).  Did you catch that? The majority.  That is a word which only has meaning with a known, definite number, and it gives us helpful insight into how church discipline should be carried out.  So while there are legitimate debates to be had about who should be in vs. out and how that should happen, there is no getting around this being a process that requires knowing who is in the church and who isn’t.  You can’t be excluded without having been included, and only a majority of the included can exclude.  Make sense?

Church discipline isn’t the only instance of a command that presupposes some form of formal ordering for local churches, but it paints a picture with bright contrasts, so it serves as a useful example of why church membership is a “good and necessary inference” from Scripture.

May our local churches be ordered in such a way that we can honor God through obedience to His commandments for church life.

As a final installment in this series, in a few days I will discuss Argument 5:  Blessing Awaits Those Who Cross Two Lines.


Serious Obligations Require Order

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

Even a cursory glance at the relationships described in the New Testament brings us to an irrefutable conclusion – the local church is serious business.  God has called us into weighty accountability with our leaders and meaningful obligations with our brothers and sisters.  He requires these relationships to function according to His word, and we not only ignore what God has said to our own peril, we also miss out on the richness of a life that transcends the shallow connections of the “normal” church.

The obligations of those who lead and those who follow

Hebrews 13:17 is striking:  “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account.  Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”  If that doesn’t give you pause about  your choice of a local church, you haven’t thought about it very deeply.  Obey.  Be submissive.  Give an account for souls.  This should make leaders and followers equally sober-minded.  This is no baby shower, where we show up, chat awhile, eat cake and then go home.

And that admonition is far from isolated.  Paul says, “And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.  Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).  We see a theme developing.  There is very real structure and authority in the church, but it is intended to be anything but adversarial.  It is serious but affectionate.  Those who follow recognize and highly esteem their leaders in love, and those who lead work hard on behalf of those in the church.  Souls are being watched out for.  Honor is being rendered.

1 Timothy 5:17 continues the theme:  “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.”  Diligent oversight.  Labor.  Honor.

So the obligations are serious.  No one could deny that.  Question:  What initiates all this?  Attendance?  On the first Sunday, or the fifth, or the twelfth? How do we decide? For now, let’s simply agree that we must decide.  There must be criteria.  It cannot be that you have an accountability for my soul, being over me in the Lord, and I am obligated to obey you, on the first Sunday and without knowing each other.  That flies in the face of any description of New Testament church life.  There is something real and significant here, and the very nature of the obligations requires some mechanism of order, some way to understand when this leader/follower line is being crossed.

The mutual obligations of  the “one anothers”

The seriousness isn’t limited to the relationships between leaders and followers.  In fact, the greater weight may be in the mutual care we should have for one another.  This is less than half the list, but here are my favorite “one anothers”:

  1. Be devoted to one another (Romans 12:10)
  2. Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
  3. Be kind to one another, forgiving each other (Ephesians 4:32)
  4. Speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19)
  5. Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ (Ephesians 5:21)
  6. Do not lie to one another (Colossians 3:9)
  7. Encourage one another and build up one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
  8. Stimulate one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24)
  9. Do not speak against one another (James 4:11)
  10. Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another (James 5:16)
  11. Keep fervent in your love for one another (1 Peter 4:8)
  12. Be hospitable to one another (1 Peter 4:9)
  13. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another (1 Peter 4:10)

Now, there is no arguing that these “one anothers” are to be restricted to only those in our particular local church.  Clearly we owe a debt of love to everyone in the body of Christ with whom we come into contact.  But look at the list! How many of these can be accomplished to a meaningful degree outside of the week-in-and-week-out rhythm of healthy church life? Not many.  I need people sowing into my life through the months, years, and decades, and I hope to have the privilege of doing the same.  Few things are as frustrating as investing a year or two into a “we’re not sure who we are” church, only to find out that there are the most fundamental incompatibilities in doctrine or practice.  Back to square one.  Better luck next time.

We need to be thinking in terms of decades, not weeks or months, and that requires a reasonable basis for longevity.  What is my family going to be taught? What is expected of me? What can I expect? People who intend to invest for decades have a right to solid, explicit answers.

All churches have membership 

Here is the reality:  all churches have membership, even the ones that don’t.  What I mean is that there are commands to be obeyed, based on the serious obligations that exist in the local church, and this requires us to order our life together.

I’ll never forget my first weeks as a deacon.  Four of us were appointed as a brand new deacon team, none having prior experience as a deacon.  We had read the books but not yet served in the office.  To shorten the learning curve, we connected with a very experienced deacon from another church.  He was so kind to talk us through issues we might face and provide the working documents their team used to keep on top of their duties.  Since theirs was a Brethren church, I was more than a little surprised to find a “member since” slot on their benevolence form.  When I asked him about it, he explained that they didn’t really have members, but that they needed a way to prioritize the people who had been committed to the church, and this was a way to identify them.

Benevolence isn’t the only area that requires understanding who is who.  What about appointing leaders? Do you know of a church that appoints leaders with whoever happens to be present? Would that be consistent with the New Testament admonition to carefully qualify candidates (1 Timothy 3:1-10), not laying hands on them hastily (1 Timothy 5:22)? Of course not.

When you don’t have official church membership, you may very well end up with ill-conceived, informal, impromptu membership.  But when matters like these arise, you will have membership, by that name or another.

The punch line is that leaders ought to know with clarity who they are leading and who has actually made the commitment to follow.  Implied commitment in either direction is a lousy substitute.  And we ought to be on record as being ready and willing to “one another” our brothers and sisters in the local church for the foreseeable future.  Nothing less than this forms a sufficient basis for the serious obligations that are part and parcel of the New Testament church.

May God give us such a life together! And may we be faithful to these relationships that have been given to us as a blessing.

Soon I will discuss Argument 4:  The Regulative Principle Requires Church Membership (not precludes it).