Monday, December 30, 2013

From the Newsletter: Holiness and Resolutions

For a long time, I have been a fan of the resolutions of Jonathan Edwards. At a young age, he committed himself to live for God. He starts his list of resolutions with the words, “Being sensible that I am unable to do any thing without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him, by his grace, to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake. Resolved, That I will do whatsoever I think to be most to the glory of God, and my own good, profit, and pleasure, in the whole of my duration; without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence. Resolved, to do whatever I think to be my duty, and most for the good and advantage of man-kind in general. Resolved, so to do, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many soever, and how great soever. The list includes 70 resolutions that he makes, and taken as a whole, it’s a commitment to personal holiness, to living for God and the furthering of God’s kingdom with his face turned away from sin.


Time and again, scripture calls us to holiness. Paul writes, “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:3-4). Peter says, “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil de-sires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy (1Peter 1:14-16)”. Most importantly, all the way back at the exodus, God declares, 'Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy. (Leviticus 19:2).


From start to finish, the holy creator of the universe says, “I am holy, and you are to reflect My holiness”. This goes way beyond clean television and keeping our noses clean. It goes beyond being nice and kind. It is those things, but it’s way more. It’s a call to live lives that are turned away from sin, and to God. Its living lives that are marked by a deep de-sire to reflect the goodness and perfection, the rightness of the heart of our creator. This is the call that lays before us. This realization led Jonathan Edwards to write “As God delights in His own beauty, He must necessarily delight in the creature’s holiness which is a conformity to and participation of it”


Unfortunately, our lives are not marked by this kind of commitment to the things of God. I found myself thinking about the contrast between Edwards’s resolutions to live as one holy and commit-ted to God with a heart saturated in the gospel, and the observation that writer and theologian Os Guinness made in passing during his recent trip to Med-way. He commented that one of the main problems that the American church has is that “we are worldly”. We should be holy. But we are worldly. It’s a hard and true word. Unfortunately, there’s all kinds of evidence to back that up. That’s another article.


But why is that the case? I think in part, it’s because we often expect that things of faith, and the life of faith will come easy, and holiness is hard. We tend to like the path of least resistance, and the comfortable path. But you don’t just end up holy. Theologian D.A. Carson observes in his book, “The God of Promise and the Life of Faith” that “People do not drift toward Holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.” (D.A. Carson. The God of Promise and the Life of Faith. Crossway Books, 2001, p. 99.)


So what does this mean for us? As people who seek to live for the glory of God in this world, and to obey everything that Jesus has commanded us (Matthew 28:20). It means that the resolution of our hearts must be to delight in God’s beauty, and seek to conform our nature to the nature of the God we love and serve, remembering the words of 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit”. It means that we must seek to continue the struggle for holiness, looking to the cross, and remembering that our deepest motivation for holiness come from seeing what God has done for us in Christ. And, it means that as we gaze upon the cross, we must continue to see the invitation of the cross to live holy before the Lord. “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, the writer of Hebrews says, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Holiness requires great effort. You don’t drift into holiness; you don’t drift into living for God. You drift into worldliness. We must be resolute in our commitment to being people who are holy to the Lord.


Every year, millions of Americans make resolutions. “I will do this, or that. Lose weight, read that book, accomplish that mission. Be a better parent, husband, wife, employee… this is the year I will…” As you face the coming year, and think about what you hope to see happen, and make your own resolutions, my invitation to you is, take stock of your life and resolve to live a life committed to living a life of holiness, a life that seeks first the kingdom of God and the things of God, and runs from the things that don’t honor God. Look at your life, look at scripture, and say, how, in 2014, can my life reflect a heart for the things that God loves, and an abhorrence for the things he hates? How can I be seeking His kingdom and His righteousness, and living for His glory? How can I be furthering the kingdom of God, and not living for the fading pleasures of this world, but for “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you (1 Peter 1:4)”? How can I be living such a good life here in this post-Christian culture that they may see my “good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12)? How can my life be marked by a commitment to live holy to the Lord? Be pondering these and many other questions.


In this season of resolutions in the face of a new year, my call to you is be holy. Make that your resolution. Live holy to the Lord. Seek to honor him with your all. As you do, remember that you cannot do this without God’s strength. Don’t forget that Ed-wards starts the resolutions by writing, “being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help.” But as you ponder the great salvation God has provided in Christ, may you hear the words of scripture  calling you to holiness, and resolve to live holy to the Lord. And when you stumble, as we are all often prone to do, may these words by America’s greatest theologian echo in your mind. “Resolved, Never to give over, nor in the least to slacken, my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.” Pastor Jonathan

Sunday, December 1, 2013

For Such A Time As This

In the last few weeks, I’ve gone to two different training sessions, and heard the same message, told in different ways. The first came a few weeks ago, when writer, theologian, and public intellectual Dr. Os Guinness came to Metrowest. He spoke at Medway Village church in the evening, but earlier in the day he spoke at a luncheon that Dan, Bill, and I were able to attend. He spoke about how we live in an Augustinian moment, a period very similar to the end of the Roman Empire, where the old age is passing away, and the direction of culture turns, and a new cultural reality arises. After a 500 year era of Christian western domination, the old age is breaking down, and something new is arising. We know this, every day we are being reminded that the ground of culture is changing. We feel it all the time and we’ve talked about this as a church. Dr. Guinness went on to argue that we need to be teaching Christians how to wrestle with the big questions, the abstract questions of “how then shall we live”, and raising up followers of Christ who can speak to the great questions and think through how we should think about these new cultural realities as Christians. And we need to be raising up Christians who can move to the centers of culture and be leaders who create networks that impact the world, while at the same time approaching things as Christians who remember that God works in His own ways, leads through the Spirit, works through surprising reversals (such as the one we see in the life of Paul), and works as we aim for His glory (The glory of God is always our goal). He said much, much more, but this was the key thing that stuck with me. By and large, I think he’s right.
The next meeting came a week and a half later, with Glynis LaBarre, the coordinator of the Missional Church Learning Experience (MCLE) that our church has been invited to take part in. She too spoke about the fact that the world is going through change, rapid change. She got at things differently than Dr. Guinness. She looked at things through more of a technological lens to explain why it has happened. She spoke about the fact that we have seen more technological innovation since 1900 than in all of recorded history before, and all of this has changed the way that we think and live and interact as a society. Coupled with changes in societal changes, it’s been a potent mix of culture shock for many, and certainly for the church. And she pointed out, it’s speeding up, the rate of change is increasing. She gave many examples, including the rise of nanotechnology and the exponential advances in medicine (for example we can take stem cells, and grow back lost organs). The rate is increasing. She said other things, but you see the point, considering that we now have cars that stop themselves to keep you out of an accident.
Just as the world shifted in the period of Augustine with the fall of the Roman Empire, the world is shifting and changing, and no one knows what will be birthed. But in some ways, it doesn’t matter. That’s for the historians to sort out. Our duty is to be at work for God in this time and in this place. I’ve been thinking about the Esther story lately. If you look in the book of Esther, you see a series of chaotic events lead to this unknown woman getting made queen, at the same time that Haman (a man who hates her uncle and all the Jews), comes to power. And as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that all along God was preparing her for “such a time as this" He orchestrated things so that she might work for His aims and His glory. And it’s not easy. She flinches as she faces the challenge, because of its immense risk; she’s risking her very life for this. But in the end, she dives in, saying “if I perish, I perish”. Behind that is a resolution to face the —> challenge, and do what she has to do, laying every-thing on the line and taking the risks that she needs to take so that God’s will may be done. The result is something completely beyond her own power; through her, her people are saved.
The same call lays before us. If God truly governs the affairs of men, and if God is truly sovereign, it is fair and right to say that God is behind this massive shift, and that He is working in and through it, and therefore it is also fair to say that this means something truly profound for us. We are not here by accident. Just as God called Esther for such a time as this, He has called us for such a time as this.
Now what does that mean for us, residents of New England, the Boston Metropolitan area, and Medfield? First, it means that we need to stop lamenting the good old days, embrace this reality, hug it tight and truly rejoice in the fact that He put us here and called us for this great and glorious moment. Glynis took time during her workshop, and had all of us say “congratulations you have been chosen to live during the most accelerated rate of change in human history”. We need to do more than pay lip service to this, we need to do it. Yes the numbers are ugly. Yes, less than 2% of new Englanders are evangelical, Bible believing Christians, people whose life and doctrine line up with what we see in the Bible. Yes, the ground is hard. But those He calls, He equips. And those He equips, He uses. He has called you, me, First Baptist, to risk all and live for the glory of God in “such a time as this”. He has called us to love and serve our community and those around us. He has called us to lovingly share our faith, to call men and women to Christ, to repentance, to faith in his saving work, in (such a time as this,) even if it means risking our standing and credibility with our non-Christians friends and family members, and even when it brings disdain or reproach from them. He has called us to be people who use our funds to further the kingdom, even though times are tight. He has called us to live holy lives in the midst of a secular culture, and to speak the truth in love. He has called us to wrestle with big ideas, and live in such a distinctly Christian way that the world is attracted even as it is put off. He has called us to engage our minds, to be thinking most clearly about the good of the world around us, rather than our interests, because that is how Christ acted towards us.
But second, it means that we need to see that God has called us not only for this time, but this place. We need to look around and recognize the unique opportunity that God has given us to make a disproportionate impact for the kingdom of God. We live in one of the most strategic places in the world. There are few places on the globe that are more strategic for the kingdom of God. When you look at the country, there are 5 or 6 cities, depending on how you count, that disproportionately affect the culture of America: San Francisco- Silicon Valley [Technology], New York [Money], LA [Film and Art], Miami [fashion], Washington [political power], and Boston [education]. Which one disproportionately affects the others? Which one could lead to a slow transformation of all the others as student come then go home? God has called us here, to this town filled with driven type A professionals, who, if they come to Christ, could have a huge impact across the region, and therefore, across the world.
How awesome is this? In moments like these things are harder. But they are also are more glorious. Heroes are forged in the fire of hardship and battle, and saints are remembered for standing up when the fires get hot. But most importantly, God’s name is made most glorious when things are harder, because His power is made perfect in our weakness. As we come to the holiday season, let’s rejoice in the hope of the gospel. Let’s rejoice that God has called us in this time and place. The challenge is great. We live in a turbulent moment, and many churches, including ours, are struggling and weak. But we have a God who likes to take the weak things of the world, and use them for His glory, because His glory shines out all the brighter when it’s clear that it was all His work. God is not done with us yet. He has called us, you and I, the fallible people that make up First Baptist, to Medfield, to Boston Metrowest, in such a time as this, to proclaim the gospel, to spread the word of God, to help people connect to the gospel, grow in the gospel, serve from the gospel, share the gospel, and be changed by the gospel, so that they, and we, might live for his glory as He calls people out of darkness and into His marvelous light. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Open Letter on the Interfaith Service

To the Congregation of First Baptist (and anyone else interested),

As many of you have heard, I have reached a decision that I cannot take part in the Medfield interfaith service in good conscience. As you all know, I have taken part in it since I started as your pastor. I did so because it seemed to be something that our church had been part of, and a duty of the position. However. I have always felt uneasy about taking part, and over this last year, came to this decision. I feel I owe you an explanation for discontinuing my involvement. Here are my reasons.

First, there has been increasing pressure to avoid the mention of Jesus. For example, last year, in the meeting preparing for the service, a strong objection was raised to the passage in Luke where men come and show thanksgiving to Jesus for healing them. In fact, anything specifically that mentioned about Jesus is viewed as unacceptable by some of those participating in the service, and this has led to an increasing pressure to avoid referencing Jesus and His saving work. If Jesus is all but taboo, and if there is a strong pressure to make Christ disappear, what am I doing there as a Christian pastor? If I, as a Christian, am asked not to pray in Jesus name, or preach about my Lord and savior Jesus Christ (and that is, in fact, the request), lest I offend someone, it seems clear to me that I’m at the wrong service.

Now, on one hand, it makes sense to say, “well, why don’t you, and we (first Baptist), fight to put Jesus back in it”. Here’s the problem. The whole logic of interfaith dialogue and interfaith worship flows in this direction. The idea is to highlight our commonality, and downplay the things that divide and make one distinct. But to do that, we have to give up the things that make us distinct, and that thing that makes us Christians distinct is Christ. The good news - that there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all and that Jesus is the way the truth and the life - is not welcome at the interfaith service. How can I take part in that in good conscience?

Second, it’s syncretism. Syncretism is “an amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought”. Think of it this way, it’s pouring all the traditions together and calling them the same thing. But what’s left when that is done is that we (those taking part), have stripped off everything distinctive, and what we are left with is a focus on the act of giving thanks, but a deliberate avoiding of clarity about to whom thanks is being given. It’s just “Thanksgiving for the sake of Thanksgiving”, because if you can’t agree on the concept of God (and that is the case Unitarians, Christians, and Jews don’t agree on their doctrine of God), you are giving thanks to what, collectively? The point of the service is to express thanksgiving… to whom? To God? How is God defined and understood? In what meaningful sense can Christians, Jews, and Unitarians (or for that matter, Hindus and Muslims, Buddhists, or any of the other many different religions) come together for an “interfaith” service? We are unable to agree on the concept of God. We can’t agree on what we are declaring the “worth-ship” of (since that is what worship is, declaring the worth and value of something)? What is the point? We aren’t praying to the same God. We don’t even share the same conception of God, which means that at best it’s a thanksgiving to the nebulous sense of “deity”. But more accurately, it’s just “Thanksgiving for Thanksgiving sake”. It's clearly not a service of thanksgiving to the God who has done more then we can ask or imagine through the saving work of Christ. Both the Old and New Testaments are filled with warnings against idolatry. I cannot take part in that.

Third, and most importantly, I believe that I may be damaging my Christian witness, and the Christian witness of First Baptist, by sending a confusing, dangerous message to the world around. By taking part in this interfaith worship and  by standing sholder to sholder with religious leaders of other religions (not other Christians- other religions- those that do not claim Christ as Lord and savior in any way), some might fairly infer by the fact that I am there that I (or First Baptist) feel there is agreement on essential matters of faith. And why wouldn't they? When we gather and worship in this way, aren’t we saying, in essence, that we all agree in faith, and are brothers and sisters in faith. Aren’t we saying that all religious traditions and spirtualities and faiths are equally valid and that “it’s ok to believe whatever, as long as you are a person of faith”? That is the message we send when we worship together in this manner, and this clearly is not the case.

Remember, not long ago (last winter), a local Unitarian “church” (Milford), was hosting a "medium connection"? For $25 you could attempt to chat with the dearly departed. Great. Another word for that is séance. It’s witchcraft, pure and simple. Now, to be fair, that has not happened here in Medfield. But to even allow someone to think that we are of “like faith” with those who might call the actions of this Unitarian church acceptable, and call those in that “church” “brothers and sisters in faith” is to create a confusing witness. Christians are not brothers and sisters in “like faith” with Unitarians (or Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or whatever other faith might get added in). “What harmony is there between Christ and Belial (2 Corinthians 6:15)?” None. There is only one name in which salvation is found, and to take part and possibly confuse the watching world around is a failure to be salt and light. It sends a dangersous message, and it damages my witness, and the witness of First Baptist. The more I think about it, the more I believe it. Some who take part in the service are brothers and sisters in Christ. But other “churches” and religions are not, and we send a confusing message that “it’s ok to believe whatever, as long as you are a person of faith”, when we worship together in this manner.

Now, I know that some of you have some objections forming in your mind. 

First, didn’t you work with the Episcopal church and the UCC on the VBS? Yes. I worked with Christian churches on a Christian VBS. Churches that at the very least, could agree on the top level issues without which you cannot be a Christian. And furthermore, I insisted that it be a Christian VBS right from the start (and may I say, we were all in agreement- lest anyone take this to mean that we had any disagreement on this- To my knowledge we were all on the same page from the start). So it was not interfaith work, it was ecumenical work- all were Christians, partaking in a Christian VBS that pointed kids to faith in Christ.

Second, so what about ecumenical worship? Christians worshiping together as Christians of a variety of Christian traditions. I have no problem with that, in fact, I think it’s absolutely acceptable and honorable to worship alongside other Christians traditions. In that, we are expressing that we are brothers and sisters “in Christ” (This is probably a watered down litmus test but the question I ask is, could they recite the creed’s of Christianity in good faith. Could they say, with you and I, “I believe in God the father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only son, our lord? Could they confess the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and that someday he will come to judge the living and the dead?). But this is not ecumenical worship, this is interfaith. And that’s where the rub lies.

Third, for a church trying to reach the community with the hope of the gospel, doesn’t this cost us influence? Maybe, but I don’t think so. In fact, I think it will actually heighten our influence. When we say, we are Christians, we worship as Christians, and we do so, because salvation is found in no other name, it will push some people to consider the claims of Christ in a new and fresh way. To think through the message that we proclaim to the world: To consider the message of Christianity. God made the world. He made it perfectly, with us ruling under His authority, and living in relationship with Him. But then something terrible happened. Our first parents, Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying and rebelling against God. They wanted to run things their way, and sought to be their own Lord and God. The result was that they brought God’s judement on themselves and all humanity. Everyone was marred by their sin, so that all follow their steps, sinfully rebel against God and bring God’s just judgment on themselves. That’s the bad news. But in his love, God sent Jesus Christ, the second member of the trinity, God in the flesh, to live perfectly and sinlessly, to die as an atoning sacrifice paying the price that God’s justice demanded for this act of cosmic rebellion, and reconciling us to God if we place our faith in Chirst. Christ rose again on the third day, proving he accomplished all that he claimed he would do. He now sits on the throne of heaven, and someday He will judge the world. We are called to repent and believe the good news, and worship the triune God who has provided this great salvation.

If that message is banned at the interfaith service, if we are not going before our saving God with thanks, I think that it is far more preferable, to not take part and find venues that allow for the message of the gospel to be stated clearly. 

Fourth, does this mean that I feel that I am above the fray, and that we Christians at First Baptist are better than others? Do I think Christians are superior people to those that do not believe that salvation is found in Christ. No and No. I am not saying that Christians are superior or better people than those that are not Christians. It may be that a Unitarian, or Jew, or Hindu, or Muslim is in fact a kinder, nicer, more compassionate, just person than many Christians. Being a Christian does not mean that you are proud because you are a better person than someone else, in fact, the logic of the gospel strikes at the very root of that attitude. It calls us to recognize that we are sinful people in need of salvation because of our deeply flawed, sinful nature. That’s the entrance fee to Christianity, if you will. So we aren’t saying that we are better than others in any way. 

Furthermore, we are not saying that we don’t want to interact with those of other faiths, or no faith at all. As a Christian, I believe that I, First Baptist, and other Christians are called to enter into our community, loving the community, serving the community, and declaring, we are here for the good of the community as Christians. We can work and serve for the good of others, Christian or not. We are not partisan in wanting the best for others. Do unto others as you would have them to you, Jesus says. “Seek the good of the city”, God says through Jeremiah. “Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:7) We aren’t just here just for ourselves. But to seek the best for all humanity, and certainly Medfield. Hear me on this. I’m not trying to be mean or exclusive, or make our church mean or exclusive. I think it’s one thing to work alongside of someone, or be friends with someone. Christians can work alongside of anyone for the common good, and be friends with anyone. Anyone. And we can talk with anyone. There is no one from whom we withdraw and say, I can have nothing to do with you. But worship is different. When it comes to worship, we must not engage in syncretism and damage our witness, as one writer put it, "genuine witness in the public square can take place through discerning dialogue and engaging conversation as well as acts of human care and mercy. We witness in the public square, but we do not worship there. "

So those are my thoughts. I am not partisan in wanting good for all, and I do not want First Baptist to be some partisan “holy huddle” that looks out for its interest alone. I want First Baptist to be loving and serving the community, seeking it’s good as I and it proclaims the distinctly Christian message that there is hope in a hopeless world, the gospel. But when it comes to worship, I do not believe that I should be taking part and helping lead this service. I am not a religious leader, and Christians are not religious people, or people "of faith". I am a Christian Pastor, and First Baptist is a Christian church, and we are all about worshiping the God who has done more than we can ask or imagine in providing salvation through Christ Jesus. To pretend we’re all the same waters down or worse, eliminates our distinctively Christian message that salvation is found in Christ alone, and thanks belongs to God alone for our provision, hope, and life itself. Christians must not send any other message to a world desperately in need of the hope of the gospel. I must not send any other message. 

I have no quarrel with those of other faiths who do what they wish to do. They can worship as they wish, and we can have sincere disagreements, and live at peace with each other. I don’t begrudge them their worship or practice. But let’s not kid ourselves, we are not all in agreement in faith. A nebulous sense of the “holy” is not the God of the Christian bible, and we must not send any other message. Christians should not pretend something that is not true, is true so that everyone can hold hands and sing. 

As I say this, I’m not trying to be a mean curmudgeon, or arrogant; I’m trying instead to be logical and wise. And the more I've thought about it, the more convinced that my participation in the interfaith service sends the inadvertent message that I believe it’s ok to believe whatever - even if it's contrary to the Gospel - as long as one is a person of "faith”, and while I am not so proud as to think that I can come to the end of any subject, I’m with Luther in saying that “unless I am convinced by scripture and plain reason” this is the position I will hold. I leave it to you and your conscience to do what you feel is right regarding your participation in the interfaith service.

But as you consider what to do, let me point you to the words of one of my favorite bloggers and writers, Kevin Deyoung. He captured part problem with interfaith services a few years back when looking at the inauguration of the president. He wroteImagine it's early in the first century, in and around Palestine. A new emperor, or local governor, has come to power. As a nod to the diverse religious traditions of the land, there is a prayer service to the gods on behalf of the new leader. In the mix we find worshipers of Asclepius, priests of the Artemis cult, believers in Hermes, leaders in the local fertility cult. Would we find any Jews there? What about Jesus? Can you imagine Jesus participating in such an event?  With the warnings of Israel's history and the seriousness of the Ten Commandments, is there any way Jesus, would possibly agree to participate in such a ceremony? We aren't talking about giving taxes to Caesar, or praying for the Emperor in synagogue worship, or living out your faith in public. We are talking about a worship service where the "God" worshipped is the "God of our many understandings", to borrow a recent phrase. and the tacit assumption is that we can all share in genuine spiritual fellowship. In Revelation, as best as we can tell the context, Jesus rebuked several of the churches for simply going along with ritual meals to various gods in the guilds of the day. What would he say about sharing a worship service? Would the Apostle Paul, who warned his churches of syncretism and idolatry so often, consider for even a moment participating in a worship service where several different gods were invoked? The same points all stand in relationships to interfaith thanksgiving services. I leave it to your consciences to make the choice about whether you participate in the interfaith service of Medfield.

Your Pastor,
Jonathan Chechile

P.S. Here are some articles that helped me clarify my thinking over the last month as it became clear this would be an issue.
Salt & Light: Syncretism? - Prof. John T. Pless 
The Problem with Interfaith - Nadeem Abdul Hamid (a Muslim take- Very interesting)
Interfaith Prayer Services - Dr. Albert Mohler (Audio Interview)

Are interfaith worship services appropriate for Christians - Ray Pritchard

Friday, November 8, 2013

From the Newsletter: Funeral or Rebirth

A couple days after the business meeting, the Moderator of my church texted me and asked, “is FBC headed  to a funeral, or are these the labor pains of a rebirth. I think and pray it is the latter”
I think it will be the latter, because it is the kick in the pants that we have all needed. I’m serious. Every church should be a disciple making church. No church gets a special dispensation, a get out of evangelizing and disciple making free card. Jesus commands us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matthew 28:18-20). He also makes clear that if we don’t bear fruit, the ax will come.
That goes for ever church, and every person. And if we don’t do this, it will be the end of First Baptist as a church family. We don’t live in a Christianized world where people just drift into church because “it’s the right thing to do”. Those days are gone. We know this. We know that we live in a post Christian neo pagan environment, and the younger people are, the more true this is. What this means is that we have to be faithful to the call, and if we are not willing to do what God has called to do, we will die from disobedience. I believe that the future of our church could be very bright, this crisis can be the very thing that re-launches us in a new and fresh way, because we are being shown a flashing neon sign that says if we are making disciples, we live, and if we don’t, we die.
Now, as I say that, let me add these thoughts.
First, this is why we have been focusing in on evangelism and apologetics recently. This is why over the last 6 weeks we have done The Reason for God: Conversations on faith and life, a DVD study thinking through how to have conversations with those that don’t know Christ (which we may re-run at another time if there is interest). This is why we are starting a new study next week on Mark Dever’s book The Gospel and Personal Evangelism. This is why we are encouraging you to be Matthews, to do the My Hope with Billy Graham outreach, inviting people into your homes, sharing a DVD based gospel presentation, and then giving your own testimony and answering questions as you can. This is why you will see an idea that Linda Dougherty has suggested in the newsletter, and this is why, if you have an outreach idea kicking around in your mind, you need to share it. Everyone has different gifts and different abilities to see things. Don’t be shy. We need to all be all in when it comes to changing the direction of the church.
But second, understand that our drive to change the trends has to come from love for the lost. If we try to go out to make disciples just to save our church, it won’t work. People can see through that approach. If they think we are trying to using them “to save our thing”, they will walk away in disgust. Our motivation has to be obedience to the commission and a love of the lost. We need to have a broken heart that people are facing a very real eternity separated from God. So often, Christians share, but we do it without love. We are so busy trying to convince people that we are right that we don’t convince them that we love them, which brings us around to that old adage that “people don’t care what you know till they know you care”. Our heart has to be their good. I preached at a funeral recently, and I spoke of heaven and hell, and talked about their future in a very real heaven or hell, and the hope of the gospel, and someone told me after that “preaching that message was the wrong message for these kind of people”. I responded with comedian Penn Gillette’s comment that “if you believe that someone is standing in front of a truck, at a certain point you tackle them”. Love of the lost and obedience to Christ is the only thing that makes you tackle them. Only this drives you to say, “There is no better news in all the world. To not share it is an act of cruelty and evil”.
We are often accused of being unloving for telling people they need to turn to Christ. This is patently stupid. If Christ is the way the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by Him, as John 14 makes clear, what is unloving is to not share that news. We need to be sharing the hope of the gospel, because the future of the church rides on it, but more importantly, because we are commanded to, and because we love the lost.
Third, see how the gospel empowers you to do evangelism despite your fear. The gospel actually gives you the strength and courage to share the gospel. I know that evangelism is scary. I get that. I really do. I’ve had those movements when I try to talk about Jesus, and the words seem to stick at the back of my mouth, and I’ve felt like I don’t want to bother people. I get that. But the gospel tells us that God loved us so much he sent his one and only son, Christ Jesus the second member of the trinity, to the cross to save us. This humbles us when we are proud, because it tells us that we are so sinful that Christ had to die for us, but it lifts us up when we feel low because it tells us that God values us so much, that he would die for us. It also strengthens us, because if we know that we have the acceptance of the father, we can say, “So what if you mock, I am accepted by the sovereign God of all. What can you do to me? 'To live is Christ, to die is gain', if you mock me, sneer at me, so what? I have the Father saying 'well done my good and faithful servant' and that means much more than the disdain of anyone”. In the gospel, we have the best news in the world. Salvation has come in Christ. you are justified by faith in Christ Jesus, who died for your sins and rose again. But we don’t just have the best news, we also have an incredible source of strength that empowers us and sends us out to proclaim this amazing message.
Fourth, see the force of the gospel for creating a powerful community witness. The gospel is the thing that changes our community witness in a radical way. The gospel tells us that we are united by the blood of Christ, that rich and poor, Black, White, Asian, Latino, young and old, all are one in Christ. And what that means is that there is no one that can say, I am superior. It tells us that while in the world achievement is held up as the supreme good, our standing is not based on achievement, because you did nothing to be brought into community with Christ or each other.
The effect of these facts is that the gospel changes how we relate to one another. It gives us the ability to forgive and show radical kindness to others when they don’t “deserve it”, because we know that we have been forgiven by God, and shown radical kindness through Christ Jesus. Since he has done it for us, we can do the same to those in our church and the world. This is just a little taste of how the gospel changes how we do community. On and on the list goes. And if we allow the gospel to shape our community, and if the world will sees a community centered on the love of Christ, not on their likes and dislikes, or even their liking those like people who have been their friends for thirty years, but loving the outsider and the stranger, and yes, “those people” that we’ve all but zoned out of Medfield, it will be a powerful apologetic for the gospel, and make our church, a place where God is glorified.
No one wants a funeral. Least of all me. I don't think that we are. I think God is forcing our hand. The question is, what will we do? Will we allow the Gospel to shape us, and send us out on our Fathers business? Will we allow the gospel to be the center of our community, the thing that unites us as a community of love that is attractive to the world around? Will we allow the gospel to be the thing that drives us, the thing that shapes us, and fills us with love, and sends us out with boldness? Will we look to the cross, and not ourselves, and love the lost as Christ loved us? Will we cry out to God to act, and then obediently obey His commission? If we don’t, it’s game over. But I don't think that is what is going to happen. I’m with Dennis. I think these are the labor pains of rebirth. I think there are many, who want to see God do something awesome here once more, and I think he will. I believe that will see a rebirth that is more than any of us can ask or image.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

From the Newsletter: Prone to Wander

We live in a world where we are constantly being drawn this way, and that, run to this meeting, get to this event. Soccer, dance, chess club, the gym, shopping, work, and I could list a hundred other things. And before you know it, you’ve found your-self making your Christian walk, church, and the things of God just a few more things on the list of things to do. It’s a real danger that all of us face. We know that knowing Christ and Him crucified should be the very center of our lives, but instead our walk becomes part of the periphery.
Unfortunately, churches can get the same way, we get excited about this thing and that thing. We get excited about the latest good cause. Child poverty, human trafficking, fighting for the rights of the unborn, aids in Africa, fighting for religious freedom, on and on it can go. And then there are the very good things that the church should be doing: serving the poor, encouraging the family, building healthy marriages, teaching men to be men of God (because we’re desperately short of both men and men of God in our culture)… the list keeps growing, and we can so quickly lose sight of what is truly important (I know I can).
Which is why as individuals and as a church, we must constantly be reminding ourselves to keep our eye on the cross, the glory of God, and the furthering of His kingdom. I find it fascinating that Paul described the death and resurrection of Christ as being of first importance, and how he lived a radically cross centered life. The thing that drove him was the cross, which led to the desire to glorify Christ, and obey His command to go into all the world and make disciples. And he did it, no matter what the cost. Though he was mocked, beaten, shipwrecked stoned, he was willing to spend himself, and be spent by God for the furthering of the gospel and the making of disciples. 
As I look at the apostle Paul, I can’t help but see a model for how we should move forward in this increasingly pluralistic neo pagan culture both as individuals and as a church. He kept his eye on the ball, come what may, and said with boldness, to live is Christ, to die is gain. Follow me, as I follow Christ.

When I look at Paul, I can’t help but think “I want to spend and be spent for the kingdom of God. May you say the same. I want all of us to have the cross on our hearts, the glory of God on our minds, and the making of disciples as our mission, because we proclaim the gospel to Medfield and beyond not to hear ourselves talk, but to make disciples who understand the gospel, live out of the gospel in a deep and rich way as they seek to glorify God, and then make more disciples who continue the pattern. 

In the business of our schedules, in the midst of competing priorities, may we keep our priorities in line. It’s easy to let them get all out of whack. Prone to wander, says the old hymn, prone to leave the God I love. With this in mind, may our prayer be, Lord we know we’re prone to wander. Lord, help us keep our eye on what is truly important. “Here’s our heart Lord, take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above”.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Morning Musings: The fall of Satan and our own foolish thoughts

Why did Satan fall? This morning, I was reading Ezekiel 28, which describes the fall of Satan, and it's a fascinating passage, and it answers the question of what made Satan become the archenemy of Satan. The answer is shocking. Pride.
The passage starts as a statement to the king of  Tyre, but you quickly realize that its talking about the power behind the king of Tyre, because we're told that he was in Eden, the Garden of God.
So what do you see? First, you see a being that is blessed in every possible way. In the description of Satan in Ezekiel 28, you see that he is the model of perfection. Full of wisdom and beauty. Adorned with all kinds of precious stones. Anointed as a guardian cherub. Ordained by God. He walked among the fiery stones. I don know what the fiery stones where, but I'm betting they where amazing.
But then look at what he said. "I am a god. I sit on the throne of God." He looked himself and he wanted the same status as the Creator. He wanted his standing to be equal with God. He forgot that he was a created being rather than the creator, and claimed the prerogative of God.
Here's the thing that struck me. Do we not do that when we seek self autonomy? Do we not do that when we think "I can handle this. I got this, I don't need God for this." Is this not us much of the time? "I am in control, I can handle things, I don't need God for this. He can take care the big things I'll take care of this".
If we're depending on him for out very breathe how can we say this? If we acknowledge that he orders and numbers our days, and is sovereignly in charge of all creation, how can we say this with a straight face? He is God. He is in control. He alone rules all things. May we not be so foolish as to think that we are in control. May we not be so proud as to think that we've got this. Only God "has this", only God most high is in control.
So here's my final though and prayer (my prayer for myself, my family, my church, and for everyone who reads this). May we see at all times that God is God, and we are not. And may we be on our knees crying out for God to work through us what is pleasing to him. May we see that there's nothing that we can do apart from him that will have any real value. All we do is sinful to the core. It's filthy rags. We need Him to be at work. May he be at work for His glory and not ours, and may we acknowledge that he's got this (whatever this is) and we do not.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


The Bible never envisions disciples who don’t make disciples. It never pictures or presents a situation where one two, three, or even a percentage of the church are the ones doing most of the work of the kingdom, and everyone else stands back, and watches. It shows elders leading and teaching, and equipping all the saints for mission. We are told that God gave different leaders with different gifts “to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up”. The more we know God’s word, the more we sense this.

This summer, I started getting requests, please give us resources for evangelism, and in light of that, we crafted the fall Bible studies around this need. In addition to the Bible studies, I want to tell you about two other outreach training resources that I would like to invite you to be part of.

The First is a Missional Church Learning Experience (MCLE) that the Boston Southwest association will be hosting. What is an MCLE? Basically, it’s a group of churches gathering together to form a learning community to ask what God is saying to the Church today, and how can we best serve God on mission in this rapidly changing culture in a group context. The Boston Southwest Association is bringing in Glynis Lavar (the ABC’s lone missional thinker of note- as best I can tell) for three training sessions to help us think through how we can begin to impact our community as a church that is living on mission for God. We have been asked by the Association to put together a team of people who are interested in exploring the future of Christian faith in America, who will take what they have learned, and begin to help the church implement the things they are learning. The commitment that is required is that you be willing to set aside the 16th of November, the 8th of March, and 28th of June 2014, the dates Glynis Lavar is coming to lead the workshops. If you are interested in learning more about the MCLE, email me, or check out the ABC's MCLE page.  


The other thing that I would like to mention is coming up quickly. On the 27th of October, Roger Haber, one of the pastors in the area, will be coming to put on a workshop for the Billy Graham My Hope training at 6:30 at the parsonage. What is My Hope? It’s a national outreach program being run by the Billy Graham association, and we are participating. What we are looking for is people who are willing to do what Matthew did. He invited some people over to meet Jesus. The idea is that you invite people over, have a great meal with them, show a video presentation by Billy Graham, share how you came to Christ, answer questions and have a conversation about the gospel, and invite your friends to know Christ. The Billy Graham Association is launching the outreach in November. For more information, check out the video, email me, or check out Billy Graham's My Hope Page


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The building

When it comes to the building, this has been a busy summer around First Baptist Church, I don't know if you've noticed, but we have had a lot of work done this summer. We put a new roof on the sanctuary and several parts of the building, and MCC sprang for Astroturf on the playground. The roof project became essential when Veronique came home after worship practice and saying, "it's leaking in the sanctuary". That moved us from saying, "We need to get a roof inspection", in some general sort of way, to "we need to get a roof inspection… yesterday".

 Now that the roof is done, we need to begin to deal with the domino effects that come from a leaking roof and of putting off repairs till a later date. As you know, there is some work to do (to say the least).

Here are the things that need to get done sooner rather than later.
  • We need to repair the water damage and paint the sanctuary (Holes in the tin ceiling and peeling lead paint make this the highest priority). 
  • We need to deal with the floor in the sanctuary. The floor is an odd combination of old carpet and linoleum that is being held together with metal strips that run every which way. It’s getting to be unsafe. Veronique sits at the sound table and she has told me several times “this person almost tripped, that person almost tripped”. 
  • We need to deal with the Narthex (the entryway). When you walk in, your eyes are drawn to peeling wallpaper, peeling paint, and water damage and cracks on the ceiling. It needs to be repaired and repainted. It’s our point of entry into the building. It is our first impression to newcomers. 
  • We need to repaint the front of the building, and the other parts of the building that don’t have the siding on them. The sooner the better. The sooner this happens, the less board rot we have to deal with. 
  • Finally, we need to deal with wiring. We have old, knob and tube wiring with the cloth covering in the attic that goes back decades and decades. This is a must fix (so that we don’t have it short out and burn the place down- it’s that kind of old).

There are three reasons I think we need to deal with this stuff sooner rather than later.
  • First, on a basic level, this is a stewardship issue. The longer we put some of this off, the worse the deterioration will be, and more expensive it will be to fix. We’ve found that time and again, when we put off work, what we end up with is a bigger overall bill (Exhibit A of this is the men’s bathroom- last fall’s never ending project that resulted from us procrastinating on replacing a toilet for years and years). That is a poor use of the funds of the church, and its poor stewardship of the building that God has called us to care for (remember, in the end, the building is not ours, it is God’s. We are stewards of it, and we need to be the best stewards we can be). 
  • Second, we live in Medfield Massachusetts, and part of being a church that loves and serves our community well, part of being a missional church, must include not having a space that is not off-putting. The way I see it is this; it can either be an old rundown building, or an old well maintained building. Medfield is full of historic buildings that the community loves; we want to be one of them. So we must think which do we think is more in keeping with Medfield sensibilities? Which do you think is more likely to be visited? Which do you think you will feel more comfortable inviting a friend to? 
  • Third, it’s just being good neighbors. Medfield is going through revitalization. Starbucks is coming, Roche Brothers is coming, and Friendly’s has been converted to a Dunkin Donuts and as good neighbors and members of our community who want to love and serve Medfield, we should want to take part in the revitalization by making our church look as good as possible.

So what’s the next step? I’ve just laid out the need, and the reasons that I think we should do some of these projects it. The next step is for the leadership to sort out the bids, and hire the appropriate contractors for the sanctuary. Fortunately Doug Masters of Masters Touch is helping us sort through all the bids, and making recommendations for us. He has generously offered to advise us through this project, and help us in finding resources that we could never get to on our own. Once we make a decision, we will work on getting the other things done as soon as possible.

So why start with the sanctuary? Two reasons:
  • The first is practical. We need to arrest the decay on the tin ceiling, which is just about irreplaceable. There are holes and rust spots on it, and they will continue to grow. But even more importantly, lead paint chips in the sanctuary are a problem. Our kids are in there. 
  • The second reason is much less practical. I think we would all feel encouraged by seeing that project done after talking about it for so long.
Obviously we don’t have the kind of money that is needed to do all of the stuff I’ve talked about, the sanctuary ceiling and walls, and the floor, and the narthex, and the outside, and the wiring… it’s a big, expensive list. We can pull some out of savings, but not too much, because it is our emergency money. God forbid we needed to replace the heating system suddenly in the middle of the winter and couldn’t because we spent down everything (and keep in mind that the heating system is not young- it’s not out of the realm of possibilities).

That is where you come in. In the next month to month and a half, you will be seeing a capital campaign letter that Al and Tina Blood are putting together, outlining the projects, and the costs. My request to you is, be thinking about the project and how God is calling you to be a part of this overhaul, financially, and through the giving of your time and talents. As you do, consider the example of the Macedonians. Paul says that they gave with rich generosity, and that “they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will (2 Corinthians 8:3-5). Like us, they were not wealthy, and yet they gave for the furthering of the gospel. Consider their example, and please be prayerfully considering what you can give, and how much you can give. It is our responsibility as people who want to see lives changed through the gospel here at First Baptist, it is our responsibility as stewards of the building.

Monday, July 8, 2013

From the Newsletter: Missional Church - Part 2

We live in a mission’s field. The day has passed when the mission’s field is “over there” somewhere across the sea. It is here. New England is a mission’s field by just about any imaginable standard, and that means that we need to start thinking of ourselves as missionaries, and it also means that we need to shape our church and our life around the mission of God, and seek to be a church and people that live on mission for God as missionaries here in Medfield and the Boston metro. We have to. As Jared Wilson has noted that  "The need for Gospel- Centered Missional Churches throughout New England is Dire. We have to. And that brings us back to the subject of the missional church.  

Last month, I started to talk about the subject of the missional church. I noted that throughout the church world, there has been a lot of discussion about the missional church. What it means to be a missional church, and how to be missional, and I looked at two questions. What is leading the missional church discussion? I noted that what was driving the discussion is that we no longer live in the world of Christendom, where the culture helped “Christianize” people. Now, we are people living in a pluralistic, pagan society, where we must see ourselves as missionaries, rather than people in a converted culture. Second, I asked “what are the theological motivations for missional church? I tried to show some of the theological foundations for the argument that the church should be shaped around mission, and I noted that God is a missionary God. He is the ultimate missionary, and we are sent, as the father sent the son. This month, I want to look at two more questions. What is a missional church, and how do we become a church that loves and serves our community missionally?
First, what is a missional church? What exactly does it mean to be missional? What does a missional church that is sent to the world look like? In short, it’s a church aimed outward. It seeks to point its nose outward rather than inward, and incarnationally serves the world, as the Son served the world, because it’s shaped by a love of community. It sees that God loves people, we are made in His image, and that means we are shaped by a love of the community, not just the landmarks, but the people in it.

Different writers give different lists, all with big overlap. According to the Gospel and Our Culture Network, one of the original team of missional thinkers, there are at least 12 hallmarks of the Missional Church: 
  • First, The missional church proclaims the gospel. It contextualizes the gospel (Contextualization is about making the church as culturally accessible as possible without compromising the truth of Christian belief), but it does not skimp on the gospel, or compromise the gospel. 
  • Second, “the missional church is a community where all members are involved in learning to become disciples of Jesus”. It is reproductive by nature. It seeks to grow people in the gospel. Since it understands that those involved are missionaries on the front lines, it seeks to train people as Disciples of Christ who are prepared to live on mission for Christ.
  • Third, “the  Bible is normative in the Missional churches life”. It has authority and shapes the life of the church. 
  • Fourth, “the missional church understands itself as different from the world because of its participation in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ”. 
  • Fifth, “the missional church seeks to discern God’s specific missional vocation for the entire community and all of its members”. It goes into the cultures and learns who is in its community and culture, and seeks to minister there. 
  • Sixth, “a missional church community is indicated by how Christians behave toward one another”. 
  • Seventh “a missional church is a community that practices reconciliation”. It doesn’t just talk about repentance and reconciliation, it practices it. 
  • Eighth, “People within the missional church community hold themselves accountable to one another in love”. We call our brothers and sisters on their sin, and seek to push each other towards holiness. 
  • Ninth, “The missional church practices hospitality”. Not just the occasional meal, but really practicing hospitality, getting in each other’s lives often. Tenth, “worship is the central act by which the community celebrates with joy and thanksgiving both God’s presence and God’s promised future”. Eleventh, “The missional church community has a vital public witness”. It is visible to the community. It doesn’t hide in its church. 
  • Finally, “There is a recognition that the missional church itself is an incomplete expression of the reign of God”. This world is fallen, and will remain fallen till the day that Christ returns. It can’t be put right by us. But someday, Christ will make it right, when he comes to rule and reign in glory.
Now, if you’re like me, none of that seems all that radical. But let’s take a look at what Keller highlights about things that mark a missional church. Here is where the ante goes up. 
  • First, discourse in the vernacular. In Christendom, there is little difference between the language inside and outside of the church. For instance, the documents of the early U.S. Congress, for example, are riddled with allusions to and references from the Bible. Biblical technical terms are well-known inside and outside. But in a missional church, however, terms must be explained so that all understand what is being talked about, The missional church avoids 'tribal' language, stylized prayer language, unnecessary Christian jargon, and archaic language that seeks to set a 'spiritual tone.' Furthermore, the missional church seeks to avoid talking as if non-believing people are not present. Keller argues that “If you speak and discourse as if your whole neighborhood is present (not just scattered Christians), eventually more and more of your neighborhood will find their way in or be invited”. This approach has a great deal of respect for people who do not believe. It understands what it like not to believe, and allows this understanding permeates every aspect of ministry.
  • Second, Keller says, we need to enter and re-tell the culture's stories with the gospel. “In "Christendom" it is possible to simply exhort Christianized people to "do what they know they should." There is little or no real engagement, listening, or persuasion. It is more a matter of exhortation (and often, heavy reliance on guilt.). In a missional church preaching and communication should always assume the presence of skeptical people, and should engage their stories, not simply talk about "old times." To "enter" means to show sympathy toward and deep acquaintance with the literature, music, theater, etc. of the existing culture's hopes, dreams, 'heroic' narratives, fears. The older culture's story was--to be a good person, a good father/mother, son/daughter, to live a decent, merciful, good life. Now the culture's story is-- a) to be free and self-created and authentic (theme of freedom from oppression), and b) to make the world safe for everyone else to be the same (theme of inclusion of the 'other'; justice).” So what does it mean to retell the cultures stories? “To "re-tell" means to show how only in Christ can we have freedom without slavery and embracing of the 'other' without injustice.” 
  • Third, we need to theologically train lay people for public life and vocation. This is big. In 'Christendom' you can afford to train people just in private world skills- prayer, Bible study, evangelism -because they are not facing radically non-Christian values in their public life--where they work, in their neighborhood, etc. but in a missional' church, the laity needs theological education to 'think Christianly' about everything and work with Christian distinctiveness.  
  • Fourth, we need to create Christian community which is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive. In Christendom, 'fellowship' is basically just a set of nurturing relationships, support and accountability. That is necessary, of course. In a missional church, however, Christian community must go beyond that to embody a 'counter-culture,' showing the world how radically different a Christian society is with regard to sex, money, and power. We understand that because of the gospel, everything is different; we have a different mindset, and different approach to all of life because of the gospel. Furthermore, he argues that “in general, a church must be more deeply and practically committed to deeds of compassion and social justice than traditional liberal churches and more deeply and practically committed reaching those that don’t know Christ and leading them to saving faith than traditional fundamentalist churches. This kind of  church is profoundly 'counter-intuitive' to American observers. It breaks their ability to categorize (and dismiss) it as liberal or conservative. Only this kind of church has any chance in the non- Christian west.”  
  • Fifth, it practices Christian unity as much as possible on the local level. He argues that we need to focus on what unites us, and seek to co-operate where we can with other churches.
These are a few of the different attempts to define what a missional church looks like. As you can see, it’s faced outward, but it’s also deep, because it’s preparing missionaries, and not consumers. As I’ve thought and read, what I’ve seen is that these things just scratch the surface of the picture. Let me get at some of the things that I closer to the ground.
  • First, being mission involves having lives shaped by the gospel, and recovering some of the personal spiritual disciplines that have shaped Christian life, for centuries. Personal spiritual disciplines, both internal (such as meditation on the word, prayer, fasting, and study), and external disciplines (such as simplicity and frugality, stewardship, holiness, submission, service, solitude, evangelism, hospitality, and chastity), and corporate spiritual disciplines (such as prayer, the preaching of the word, confession, worship, service, hospitality and fellowship, guidance, and celebration). In all this, there has to be a commitment to having the DNA of the individual and the church shaped by the gospel, and then continually growing deeper in our understanding of the gospel and its implications, rather than the values of our community and culture (such as success and standing, , career and money, hobbies, or even family) 
  • Second, being mission includes asking what God is doing, and how can we be a part of it? Where is God working, where are the needs, where is the brokenness, and what is God calling us to do in that place? 
  • Third, being mission involves becoming people who actively analyze as missionaries. Missionaries think before they act. This means we need to analyze our culture and the people around us to really understand who they are and what makes them tick. It also involves analyzing the media, and entertainment that we see, and rather than just enjoying it, think about what it is saying to us. What message is it communication, and how is it shaping us, and those around us? Should we accept that message, reject it, is it redeemable? We need to actively think through everything we can. 
  • Fourth, being mission includes radical service to the world around, as we seek to incarnate the gospel to the world around. We should not expect that people will just be drawn to church. Non Christians will not just walk in and decide to follow Christ. The reality is that the world has changed. This is not 1955 or even 1975. Most of our neighbors have already decided they will never ever step foot in our church buildings as long as they live, which means that if we want to see people come to Christ, we must get out of the building for as long as possible, and serve them, and paint a picture of the Christian life for the world to see. Most people need to see a picture of the Christian life before they will be willing to consider the gospel, but if they do, it can be transformative. The biggest things that led to the growth of the early church was the way they served the world around and painted this picture. One Caesar lamented that the “Impious Galileans” didn’t just take care of their poor, needy, and hurting, but also the poor, needy, and hurting of pagan Rome as well, and that built incredible standing and credibility for their message. We need to do the same. We must go, and serve, and incarnate the message, and to take the gospel to the watching world.  
  • Fifth, being mission requires that we seek to make disciples, rather than grow the church. When we try to create or grow our churches, we rarely get disciples. That's because disciples don’t just happen. Disciples are formed, loved, invested in, sacrificed for, raised up and sent . . . to do it all over again themselves. And that raises a question I was confronted as I have thought through the missional church material that I am getting from the denomination, and from my reading. How many of us have been discipled? I mean, like Jesus discipled the Disciples? Have you been? If you are one of the few rare followers of Jesus who have been, you know that in the time when that occurred, you grew more as a disciple than in all your other years combined. The early church got this, but we’ve forgotten it. And the result is that we’re not growing reproducing disciples, which is leading to the death of countless churches. We need to be seeking to make disciples for the sake of Christ, rather than building our church, because ultimately, it’s not about our church, but about God, and seeing people know and worship God. “Mission”, John Piper said, “exists, because worship doesn’t”. Building our church is a fading glory, building disciples who know God and live for his glory and honor, and then build more disciples, who build more disciples, is what we should be seeking… it’s not about getting people into church, but out of the church, so that we can take the news of the gospel, and evidence of the kingdom of God before the world continuously. 
  • Sixth, being mission means that we need to grow deep community. Our community must be more than countercultural, it must be deep. It has to go beyond just saying hi at coffee hour, but involve actively being in people’s lives, helping each other, serving each other, living lives that say we care about each other. Think acts 2:42-47. This will involve laying down rights and privileges, and not seeing ourselves as autonomous, self made, self focused individuals, but as people living in community for the sake of Christ. This also includes loving each other deeply. One of the statements about the early church was, “see how they love one another”. They practiced forgiveness and reconciliation, and hospitality, inviting the friend and the stranger into their homes, and so must we. We must practicing these things as we seek to show that we care about each other because of the gospel. And here’s the thing, community is key to making disciples. As people see the community, and see the lives of the members of the church community, they are attracted (or should be), that allows them to talk about what’s going on, and process the gospel within community. As I’ve thought about Dennis coming to Christ, it started with him getting dragged to church, where he got introduced to people, and then as he came into community, and got to know people, he heard about the gospel from multiple people, and he heard preaching from me, and others that were recommended to him, and eventually, he came to trust Christ. Ultimately, the introduction to people in the community and building of relationships leads to the sharing of the gospel in a much more organic way that so much of what has passed for evangelism does, which makes deep community all the more important.
Will moving in this direction be easy? No, it will be messy and hard, what is easier by far is coasting along unchanged, affecting nothing. Satan would like nothing more than a church that just coasts, I promise you that. But that’s not what God is calling the church to do, and the call to missional church is a call to see that we are the gathering of the redeemed sent to participate in the work of Jesus in this world. It’s not to huddle together for warmth. It’s not to just pour most of our time, energy, money on serving ourselves or our loved ones. It’s to go out as sent ones. I’ve been seeking to paint this picture for awhile, because I believe that we need to see ourselves differently, not as a club, but as a community of people whose very purpose is to be people who go as “the sent ones” into our communities to be salt and light. The call of the missional church, the call that has been grabbing at me, and I hope you, is that we need to be shaped by the need for reaching the world rather than the comfort of those in the pews, because the church is not primarily about us, but about God’s mission in the world. 

Now, let me be clear, this all feels like it will be a massive deconstruction of how the church approaches things. It may even feel like a deconstruction of the institutional church. it’s not. Some say that deconstruction is the right road. But I don’t, and neither do any of the serious and best missional thinkers. Instead, this is a critique of the approach that hangs up a shingle, and waits. It’s is a critique of the seeker sensitive movement, it a critique of the fact that as Christendom ended, and it’s a cry, led by people who love God and love church, that we need to get in gear, and reach those around us. It’s a scream, for us to recognize that we are missionaries, and to start thinking like missionaries, learning to understand those around us, learning how to serve and care for them, and love them, because God loves them, and wants them to know him and then grow as his disciples.
Ultimately, being a missional church is not about being one style of church or another. It’s about galvanizing into distinct movement, understanding that you are sent into an irreligious world to live as a Christian and to lift up and proclaim the good news of the Gospel. It’s about seeing that every believer is sent on this mission by God just as Jesus was sent on this mission (John 17:14-16, 18; 20:21). It’s about seeing that if the people outside of the church will not relate to anything we are currently preoccupied with protecting, we need to shift. It’s about being a theologically-formed, Gospel-centered, Spirit-empowered, united community of believers who seek to faithfully incarnate the purposes of Christ for the glory of God. 

The mission of the church is found in the mission of God who is calling the church to passionately participate in God's redemptive mission in the world (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).

Remember that this goes so much deeper than just having a missions program, and being “missions-minded” A missional church is a church that sees mission as being not just one part of what the church does, but instead, finds that the church’s mission shapes and forms its identity, lifestyle, strategy, priorities, spending, leadership, structure, and decision-making and has a focus on missional outreach. This mission is based upon the life and mission of Christ. Every member of the church is “sent”. It’s not about “sending and supporting” missionaries. It’s about “participating here” rather than having someone “represent you there”. It’s not a program – but the very essence of the church.

So, how do we become a church that loves and serves our community missionally? How do we become what might be called a missional church? We don’t do it to be cool, but to be faithful. So how do we get there? Honestly, that’s where I’m the weakest, in large part, because that’s the 64 million dollar question that everyone is trying to figure out. It’s pretty clear, that with culture as diverse as it is now, it’s not one size fits all. There is no church in a box, silver bullet solution. If there is one thing that I have found out as I have read, and read, it’s this.

As I have indicated, I think it starts with shifting our thinking. We need to understand that this is not a program, slap it on, and we’re good to go. Ultimately, being missional is about how we see ourselves, and that requires a change of mind, asking, ourselves, are we people who see Christianity as one ball to be juggled, or as people who are shaped and defined by the gospel, and then live out of the gospel in every area, as we seek to bring the gospel to the world around. And are we doing it because we want the church to grow, or because we want people to know the savior who has radically transformed our lives.

Second, I think it includes dealing with some things. We have rifts that need to be healed. It occurred to me, as I reflect on my time here, that there have been countless skirmishes and battles, and that we do not love each other the way that we should. Division has marked my time, and that saddens me. But then I reflected more deeply, and realized that this is the history of the church. We need to repent of our sin, especially when it comes to our rights, and expectations, and selfishness (remember that one part of those founding First Baptist were driven by not wanting to pay taxes, that strand of selfishness is still in our DNA), and ask for forgiveness of those we have wronged, and those places where we have insisted on our rights, and really seeking to love one another with deep Christ-like love, so that the town of Medfield will say, “see how they love one another”. Then we need to be in each other’s lives, showing that we care about each other.

Third, I think it requires that we stop lamenting the end of Christendom (I’m talking to myself as I say that). Christendom made the church a cultural captive. Because it was the arbitrator of culture, it couldn’t call culture on its systemic sins, it could only confront the private sins. But if Christendom is gone, and that releases us from cultural captivity, allowing the church to not be the arbitrators of the culture, or even the cultures morality, but to call people to run against the grain, and live lives marked by the gospel and the disciplines of Christina life.

Fourth, I think it includes understanding that this will take time, and is dependent on God. This is more of a process, like growing a garden than starting a machine. It’s not church in a box. Furthermore, only God brings revival. I can’t promise that we will succeed in anything we try; only God grows the fruit. I plant, Apollos waters… God makes it grow.

Fifth, I think it includes really connecting to those in our community, and getting to know our neighbors, and really seeking to know them. And asking what are the challenges people are facing. What are they struggling with? What’s happening in their lives? It also involves asking, where can we find ways to bless our town, in Jesus name, because we want to love them as Christ loved them? It starts with finding ways to partner with others in our community, to serve Medfield, and Metro-west, and meet its needs, simply because God loves this community.

Furthermore, I think it includes thinking theologically, biblically and missionally about how you live, and how you can be someone whose live is a powerful witness to what God has done in your life.(Acts 4:32-34). It includes regarding yourselves as “Ambassadors” of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-20), and guard your heart against syncretism (worshiping things other than God- looking to what Keller calls counterfeit Gods) and sectarianism (huddling away from the community). It includes looking at everything we do through the prism of the gospel, and not visa-versa (Acts 10). It includes loving God, His mission, and His people, and having your own life shaped by the gospel. It also requires that we do everything we can with excellence, in a way that says, we care about the community, and that includes even the little things like taking care of the building. The list is endless.

But there is one more thing that we can do as we seek to become a church with this missional instinct. The Boston Southwest Association has invited Glynis LaBarre, one of the denominations few missional thinker (as best I can tell), to lead any churches that are interested in a “missional church learning experience (MCLE)”. It’s not a perfect program, but it’s designed to allow our church to work alongside other churches, and try to take baby-steps in serving our community and incarnating the gospel.

Ultimately, this will require everyone working in the same direction, and learning together I’m going to admit upfront, I can’t turn make this shift happen on my own. I can’t save the church, as many hope that I can do. Furthermore, I think that we need to stop worrying about saving the church, and reaching Medfield with the gospel. We need to understand that success is measured in people knowing Christ, not saving the institution. And for this, I don’t have a complete roadmap for success. I’ve got suggestions, and lots of thoughts. I have freely barrowed from many sources in putting this together (If you would like a list of some, email me, and I will provide you with some things to chew on), but I don’t have a ten point plan (intentionally). I don’t want to present you with a top down plan of, here is how we do this. Instead, my hope for all this, is to jump start a conversation about how we can reach our community and region together.

I know it will require sacrifice, and that we might be tempted to reject the task because of the cost. But I also truly believe that we all want to obey God and see lives changed by the gospel, and that’s the reason to go through what looks like a daunting transition (daunting even for the change pastor). In the end, it all comes down to the desire to further the kingdom. To see people know Jesus, and become his disciples. To obey our king, serve our king, and follow our king. To be sent, as He was sent. We know that the world is changing, that Christendom is past, and we face a new paradigm for ministry. We know we’re not alone in feeling like the world has turned upside down. We know we’re one of a hundred churches that feel the same way, just in the Boston area. From seminary presidents, to denomination officials, to pastors and church leaders, and church members, everyone is struggling to find the answers. We’re going through the biggest cultural shift since the reformation and enlightenment that led to the rise of modernity. Everything is out of balance; we’re all being bombarded with change that is requiring personal, systemic, and cultural transformation inside and outside of the church. And yet in this, God is acting, and we need to be working together to see lives changed by the gospel.

So how can we bring the gospel to people in such a time as this? What is he calling us to? Lets spend the summer talking about this. If He is a sending God, how can we be living on mission together in a way that reaches Medfield and Metro-west and makes disciples? That’s the conversation I hope to get you all involved in. As I ponder this, I know that I am still a relative newcomer. This was your town and region first; all of you know this community and region far better than I do. I have no doubt that you see things I miss. Reaching our community is going to require all of us working together, and I need your help, as together we seek to hear from God and follow God, and live for the glory of his name. Consider these last two articles. Consider the Mission field of New England, and of Medfield and Metro-west, and consider what that requires of all of us, together, as we seek to live as people sent on mission. My hope is that wherever God is taking First Baptist, and the greater church community, that we will go through this change well, and that that the result will be that the kingdom of God is furthered, and that people connect to the gospel, grow in the gospel, becoming mature disciples, serve from the gospel, share the gospel, and that all are truly changed by the gospel.