Stop Dating the Church

Recommended.

The purpose of my reading the book was to see whether it would be a helpful resource for people who attend our church but had not joined yet – not to “convince” them to join but more to help them diagnose what specific things gave them cold feet about the whole thing.

The book easily met my expectation. It is short and easy to read. He writes it in the first person which makes it seem much more like a conversation than a theological book. In fact there are many other better books on the doctrine of the church I would recommend ahead of this one but I agree with Tim Challies that the ease of reading here was perhaps its greatest strength. It’s hard to believe an open minded Christian could read this book and walk away saying that they should just keep their local church relationship at arm’s length. It’s a solid effort all the way around.

In addition to the readability of the book, I really appreciate how unashamedly he promotes the need to passionately love God’s people because God loves them passionately. If we Christians want to be like David (a man after God’s own heart) and love what He loves then we need to be crazy in love with God’s people in the context of the local church.

Chapter 4 is a very practical outline of what it would look like if you were really committed to your local church. It would be a helpful diagnostic to anyone wanting to see whether their level of commitment to a local church was an appropriate expression of God’s love in their lives. It’s well written, concise and very practical.

I don’t have a lot of reservations about the book but I did have a few. Since it’s written from his experiences, the scope of the book is pretty limiting. In this way the book’s biggest strength is also it’s biggest weakness. The Bible says that we should be active in the sharing of our faith so that we may come to know every good thing in Christ Jesus for a reason. Our own experiences will never give us a full picture of how God is working and Josh’s own experience of coming from a weak love for the church to where he is today is not everyone’s experience. He also seems to have let his direct contact with people equal the sum total of why professing Christians are not committed to local churches and those may not line up well with everyone.

One other issue I had with the book was his statement in chapter 3 that we need the ministry of others – especially pastors – to encourage us, to help us apply God’s word to our lives and to help us see our sins. That followed on a quote of Hebrews 10:24-25 (provoke one another to love and good works…encourage one another) which really has nothing to do with pastors. These are commands to every believer and most often come into play when ordinary Christians minister to each other. I don’t think most pastors, especially in churches over 200 people, even know their people well enough to do what these verses command. This is a point he makes elsewhere in the book so I don’t want to be too hard on him but having studied that passage recently it struck me as odd that he’d emphasize a pastor angle that I don’t think is in the verses.

Please tell us

Again I am writing this to anyone who might be reading this blog who is not a professing Christian.

I am aware one of the most credible criticism against Christians is that we are hypocrites. This topic comes up time and time again and I wish I could say it was unfounded. Recently I was invited (with many others) to comment on whether Christians were bad restaurant tippers and I had to agree that in my experience they really are. It’s shameful that people who have been given so much in Christ would be so stingy with their money.

I am writing this after reading a very short book: Agape Leadership. It is a biographical sketch of a man named R.C. Chapman and you will find the review on this site. It details the character of a Christian who really loved people and trusted God the way the Bible tells us to. It was incredibly powerful to see how little I loved others and trusted God compared to the life of this man.

I have a favor to ask of you. Get this little book and read it (it is available at Amazon.com). If you ever see a Christian acting in a manner inconsistent with the way R.C. Chapman did would you please tell them. They may not appreciate it at the time but if they are a real Christian, God will use it in their lives.

Thank you for your assistance. Christians are like everyone else and too often believe their own press clippings. People who do not consider themselves Christians can be extremely helpful to us in pointing out how we are not walking our talk.

Agape Leadership

Agape Leadership: Lessons in Spiritual Leadership from the Life of R.C. Chapman by Robert Peterson and Alexander Strauch

Robert C. Chapman was a godly pastor in 19th century England. In fact, Charles Spurgeon called him “the saintliest man I ever knew.”

This excellent little book is not so much a pure biography of Chapman as illustrations from his life how he lived out his loving leadership. The title “Agape leadership” sort of gives that away but may understate how excellently the authors blend together the biographical sketch and life principles he modeled.

Like many pastors and evangelists in past days, Chapman abandoned a life of ease and material prosperity to pursue his calling. After being trained by another pastor in London, he was called to lead at Ebenezer Chapel in Barnstaple, County of Devon, England. While he had some significant differences in theology with the church, they called him with the condition that he be allowed to preach whatever he found in the Bible, even if it contradicted their past practices. Many of the leadership lessons in the book deal with the conflicts he ran into as his Biblical theology intersected with their unbiblical practices.

The book covers not only traditional pastoral leadership elements, but also aspects such as practicing hospitality and giving to the needy. It is a wonderful 360 degree view of how a loving church leader ought to conduct himself both around the people of God and those who would oppose the truth.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I plan to give a copy to each of our small group leaders to encourage them with a godly example of what loving leadership looks like.

The Cross and Discipleship

I am reading Detrich Bonhoeffer’s book, The Cost of Discipleship and last night came to his most famous quote. There is one sentence taken out of context that gets all the attention, but the entire section is worth noting. I believe far too many profession Christians think they are supposed to live a cleaned up version of an unbeliever’s life but the reality is we are called on to die completely to self and devote whatever time and energy God provides to serving others. Most of our life should not be committed to the task of loving and serving one another, all of it should be.

The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time—death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call. (Detrich Bonhoeffer from the chapter The Cross and Discipleship)

This Fathomless Love

Our small group has been studying how much God loves his children by watching and discussing a video series by Elyse Fitzpatrick based on her book “Because He Loved Me”. It really has been a rich time. The morning of our kickoff one of our people signed to this song, which was the perfect tone setter for me. It’s a wonderful song and you can listen to it at Sovereign Grace Music (http://www.sovereigngraceministries.org/Resources/Music/SFTCCL.aspx) .

Lord, what moved Your heart to love lowly man
Before any star could herald Your praise?
And why did You come, abasing Yourself,
Veiled in a robe of frail human clay?
Why would You, the pure, give Your life for the vile –
The innocent seeking the guilty
To be reconciled?

I can’t comprehend this fathomless love!
I’m gripped and amazed at what You have done!
Why would the Adored become the despised
To bear all the furious wrath that was mine?
How awesome this mystery of Your fathomless love for me.

Why would You adopt and take as Your own
Those who had crushed Your one precious Son?
Why mercy and grace towards Your enemies?
Your name they have cursed and Your throne they have shunned.
Oh, how could You choose to show kindness to these –
The ones who would mock You and hate You,
The ones just like me?

I can’t comprehend this fathomless love!
I’m gripped and amazed at what You have done!
Why would the Adored become the despised
To bear all the furious wrath that was mine?
How awesome this mystery of Your fathomless love for me