"Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God's love encompasses us completely. … He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken.” ― Dieter F. Uchtdorf link
Recently, on Twitter, someone posted a link to the following post by 9 Marks: How can I lead my church toward meaningful membership?. A lively discussion ensued. For context,
This material has been adapted from Mark Dever’s chapter “Regaining Meaningful Church Membership” in Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches, ed. Thomas White, Jason B. Duesing, and Malcomb B. Yarnell, III, pages 57-60)
I am going to discuss some of my thoughts and I look forward to reading yours.
The missing mark of God's incredible love for us.
I think that this lack of emphasizing he love of a God who sings over His people may indicate what I believe to the the fatal flaw in the 9 Marks paradigm.
Proclaim the gospel. Preach about God’s holiness, man’s sinfulness, Christ’s substitutionary atonement and resurrection, and our need to repent of our sins and trust in him. And make it clear that those who are not committed to one another in love have no reason to think that they have committed to God in love (1 John 4:20-21).
The first thing that I think of when I think of God is His wonderful love. It was that love which drew me to Him when I was a teenager. When I look at Calvinista theology, I am often struck by how little the love of God is talked about. Instead we are told that we are sinful failures which is true, but they are stuck on a very long pause. We are always lousy sinners, messing up God's glory by our awful lives. I am weary of posts or comments in Calvinista treatises in which people refer to themselves as worms.
Love has been turned upside down. We must love committed church members because if we don't, we are not committed to and don't love God. The love of God to his creation is not a matter for discussion-only our sinful behavior.
9 Marks us big on proclaiming the gospel. When I was a teen, I learned John 3:16 which I was told was the essence of the gospel. We can say this by rote and often quickly skip over the incredible statement: For God so loved the world.
This week, I read God Is Not Out to Get You: The Lord delights in you and sings over you. Can you believe it? published in Christianity Today. As I was reading it, I have to admit that tears came to my eyes. It seems that all I read from a certain segment of Christians speaks of a God who is miffed off that we don't obey Him perfectly. Here are a few comments that I hope will encourage our readers or get them to admit that they, too, have felt degraded and worthless. I commend Jeremy Treat for this important essay in these days of "The Believer is a Worm."
The post is based on Zeph 3:17 (NIV Bible Gateway)
The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”
How often do our churches discuss the joy that God has for us.
Many people have a similar view of God. They believe he’s a grumpy old man who has to get his way, and that when he doesn’t, he will shame, guilt, and scare people to get them in line. Although most wouldn’t say it out loud, deep down even many believers think of God as “the God who is out to get me,” that he is waiting for us to mess up so he can meet his divine quota for punishing sin.
…What do you think God really feels when he looks at you? For many of us, even though we know intellectually that God loves us, we believe in our hearts that God is disappointed, angry, or even indifferent to us. Others of us know that we are forgiven but think of our standing before God only in negative terms: He’s not mad at me. I’m not guilty.
…Many Christians carry this perception of God because we overemphasize what we are saved from and overlook what we are saved for. Imagine if someone asked me how I feel about my kids, and I said, “I don’t hate them.” That’s a true statement, but it’s not enough. I love my kids. I delight in them. But when we think of our relationship with the Lord, too often we only think of the things God doesn’t think or feel: “He’s not mad at me. He forgave my sin.”
…God’s people are not a mistake that God is stuck with because he values commitment. He does not give out his mercy begrudgingly
…If we see God as a cosmic police officer, then we will live in fear of punishment. If we view God as a heavenly firefighter, then we’ll talk to him only when we’re in trouble. But if God is the mighty warrior who sings over his people, that changes everything,
Why the church covenant misses the mark.
1. The failure of statement of faith.
Back to the 9 Marks post.
Require members to affirm a statement of faith (what a church believes) and a church covenant (how members will live together).
Require a membership class. Help prospective members know what will be expected of them, and what they can expect from the church. Use this opportunity to teach through the statement of faith and the church covenant, the importance of membership, and the practical nuts and bolts of how your church works.
I do believe that a statement of faith of the church is absolutely vital so long as they put in both the explicit rules of the faith as well as the implicit rules of the faith. I call these implicit rules "the rules of the game." That statement should not only include the essentials such as the Trinity, the Cross, etc. but also those pesky little secondary rules that can bite you on the dupa (Russian/Polish word for bottom pronounced doo-pah.)
For example, I did not know that a former church only allowed the teaching of young earth creationism. I have written how that resulted in an all out war in the fourth floor Sunday school class. From our post by Dale on Wednesday, we learned that a 9 Marks church, with ties to the mother-ship, disciplined Dale for praying, out in the open, with two women.
Then there was the dustup with the Guy From Dubai, aka the Official TWW hero, Todd Wilhelm when he had the temerity to mention that he didn't like them selling CJ Mahaney books in the book store. It should be written into all 9 Marks statements of faith that
You shall support all BFFs of Mark Dever and your senior pastor.
Then they should proceed to list all of the untouchable names. If they do not do this, then they have no right to treat the person who doesn't get it in an aggressive manner.
Lesson: The statement of faith in 9 Marks churches only list the explicit doctrines. Always be aware that there are far more *Musts* that are implicit and you must learn them in order to survive in this church environment. Call the Deebs and we can give you a whole bunch of probable "under the table" rules.
2. The troubling mark of the church covenant.
Dale nailed something yesterday and I think that all potential church members should think about this before signing these one way contracts.
As I delved further into the notion of signing mandatory Statements of Faith and Church Covenants, I had an epiphany. Here I was, attending a church that effectively had been in existence for only two months, and they were requiring prospective members to sign a statement of faith, a church covenant and submit to the authority of the elders. These requirements suddenly appeared ludicrous to me. How could a church where we barely knew one other require such submission to authority?
Why should I decide to covenant to a church when I do not know the leaders in an intimate way. We usually know squat about any of the leaders when we join It is not uncommon for someone to sign one of these things and then figure out that they don't like the leadership, think the pastor is too authoritarian, disagree with the pastor's choice of friends, etc.
Also, these covenants tend to by one way. They tell you what you need to do. Rarely do they point out the responsibilities of the leaders to you. This could cause a real conflict when you discover that the leadership doesn't give two hoots when you land in the hospital. Also, may you never find yourself on the wrong side of a disciplinary action when your pastor decided that he doesn't like your questions about his use of discretionary funds.
TWW does not recommend that anyone sign these covenants. If they must, be sure to have a lawyer read it over. Remember that you can resign in writing at anytime, no matter what they say.
A manmade rule: Don't let your kid be baptized.
Stop baptizing children. A young child can certainly become a Christian. But a church can’t necessarily discern whether or not a child has become a Christian. Children should be given the opportunity to mature and have occasion to resist the pull of the world. So don’t create confusion by baptizing those whose professions of faith the church cannot reliably assess.
This is pure nonsense. I do not need the church to determine if my child has a child's grasp of the gospel. All three of my kids were baptized around 9-10 years old. They could express what they knew to be true. All three of them are following God in their adult years.
Let me make the observation that a number of adults, in churches like CHBC, who make professions of faith and were baptized have also left the faith. I know some and I bet CHBC does as well. I guess that the church made wrong judgments. Unlike Jesus, the church leadership is fallible and can screw it up.
Be careful when giving your appointed oversight guy too much information.
Under no circumstance, unless you know your *spiritual supervisor* really well, should you discuss any sort of sin since it could come back to bit you. For example, you have decided to leave the church. Suddenly, they come up with a reason to discipline you like Dale in yesterday's post. They then declare you must stay at the church to resolve the matter. (and keep giving them your tithe as well.)
Give pastoral oversight to members. Try to make sure that every member is in regular conversation with an elder or a mature Christian in the congregation. Take initiative in getting to know what’s going on in the members’ lives.
I disagree vehemently with restrictions on participation by nonmembers.
Limit certain activities and areas of service to members. Churches should consider the possibility of restricting its business meetings, public service, and small groups (except for evangelistic ones) to members only.
I make it a point to go to a business meeting before I join a church, even though I cannot, nor would I, vote. That is where you see how they handle conflicts, money, problems. If they won't let you attend, you can be sure that there is stuff that they don't want you to see because "you wouldn't understand, bless your heart."
Public service opportunities are wonderful times to invite nonmembers. They get to see the members in action and can even become excited about what is going on in the church. The same thing applies to a small group. At every small group that I have been a member of or led, we always invited nonmembers. If there are sensitive personal matters being discussed, we plan accordingly. We have seen people become Christians from participating in these activities.
6. The abusive mark of corrective discipline.
Revive the practice of corrective discipline. Once you have established a culture of meaningful membership, begin to lead your congregation to excommunicate those who persist in serious unrepentant sin.
Do I think that a guy who dumps his family for his honey should be disciplined, yesiree Bob. TWW never get calls about things like that. We get calls when churches discipline women for divorcing their abusive husbands, when they discipline someone for asking too many questions, etc. Let me be frank. I would never, ever, ever participate in a discipline hearing (except for a serious situation) with any pastor from any church that adheres to the 9 Marks way.
Something is wrong with the way 9 Marks teaches this stuff and it is getting weirder and more abusive. They have an ethical and spiritual obligation to remove those churches the abuse from their list but they won't.
Recently, I got a direct message from one of the 9 Marks guys all upset that I used the word *gulag* to describe what the 9 Marks guys did to Marie Notcheva. That individual didn't say one word about Marie. I told him that I was frustrated that the only time 9 Marks pays attention is when we used a tough word like *gulag* that upsets them. I took down the tweet but not one of them has ever expressed concern for the victims of 9 Marks that we write about here.
9 Marks has missed the mark of love and that is why there is so much turmoil in their churches. At this time, TWW is deeply concerned about the spiritual health of 9 Marks churches.
Hmm-Let me try it again….GULAG!!!!!! Is anyone from 9 Marks listening?