God Designed Transitions
I love the church! Of course, you would expect a pastor to say that! But it may be that I love the church for different reasons than you think. Often when people hear the word church, different ideas of church enter their minds. When we say to people that we are going to church, often a church building enters their minds. A building that is often adorned with steeples and crosses. Or, sometimes people think of church as a programed service of music, reading Scripture, and preaching. Thus, when they hear you are going to church, this programed service of worship comes to their mind.
But if you have been around here for very long, you know that I don’t think of church in that way and I don’t think that many of you do either. The church is the body of Christ. Universally it is the unity of people around the world who have put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Locally, it is a body that gathers together to worship, be instructed, and encouraged in their walk with the Lord. Speaking to the Corinthian church about unity and working together in the church body, Paul describes the church as Christ’s Body.
1 Corinthians 12:27
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
I am not sure Scripture ever refers to church as a building where believers meet, or even the program that takes place there. As the church began on the Day of Pentecost, it was always about the gathering of believers, the Body of Christ. Thus, when we go to church, we are going to the gathering together of believers. Even when you are visiting in another city and you go to the local church there, you are gathering with the local believers in that location.
For me, church is family. You are not just nice people I preach to, minister to, and visit with. You are family. Brothers and sisters in Christ. That is why this decision to leave has been heart wrenching. I am leaving family. We often say we love Jesus Christ and if you truly do, you will love His Body, the church. In fact, the Apostle John is pretty emphatic about our love for others in the church, Christ’s Body.
1John 4:7,8 11
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love . . . Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
In fact, John tells us in in his gospel, John 13:35, that the world recognizes the love of Christ because of the love we have for each other! Thus, when I say I love Jesus Christ, I am saying that I love the church. They go hand in hand. They have to according to these verses. If you love Jesus, you love His Body. If not, you need to get your heart right with the Lord and probably the person that you say you can’t love.
My love for the church goes even deeper than the personal relationships we have as family here. I love that we have an organized body of believers similar to that of the New Testament church. Now there may be some who disagree with me, but I see the organizing of the church with church leaders in the very first church in Jerusalem. In Acts 6, we find the disciples needing help in this quickly growing Jerusalem church. Because they couldn’t take care of everything, the disciples had the church choose from among the body of believers, men to help serve the widows in the church.
All throughout the new Testament we see organization of these local bodies of believers. There are leaders appointed, men and women selected to serve as deacons and deaconesses, individuals being sent out much like missionaries are today, and congregations that served one another. Even after Paul established churches in the cities he went to, he helped them choose elders and establish organization. Though they probably didn’t have constitutions, I believe that there was a recognizable membership, whether officially accounted for or not that they chose from; individuals from the church congregation to serve. Acts 14 records that Paul and Barnabas did this in the churches in Asia on their first missionary trip.
And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
In 1 Corinthian 14, Paul deals with some things that were getting chaotic in the Corinthian church, especially as it applied to the gift of tongues. He said in 1 Corinthians 14:33 that “God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” The reason for order in a local congregation is really simple. We are kingdom people. We live differently than our world of chaos. People today are strained to their limits with the chaos of the secular world and they should see something very different in the local church, peace, harmony, and unity.
1 Corinthians 14:40
But all things should be done decently and in order.
Now, living in our day, in order to be recognized as a church entity in our land, we must have some sort of governing guidelines. I know some people struggle with those terms because it sounds kind of political. But if we are to be a legal entity in Minnesota and if we are to show the world a picture of what the kingdom looks like with decency and order, we need a framework or some guidelines. That is why churches have constitutions and by-laws. We are able to enjoy certain legal protections as an incorporated entity in our country. Our president has done some tremendous things in shoring up protections of religious freedom in our land. Something many other countries do not enjoy.
If we want this local body of believers, that has been called the Longville Bible Chapel for 65 years, to continue to enjoy the freedoms our country allows, we must have organization. Not just organization for how we serve one another as believers, but as a legal entity that can enjoy the religious freedom America offers. There is nothing unbiblical about that. Thus, our church has a constitution and by-laws that help use know what to do next. For instance, we are not in the dark about what happens next after a pastor leaves the ministry here. Our constitution describes what happens next, so that everything is done decently and in order.
To begin, the Deacon Board will call for an interim pastor. This can be done in several ways, but ultimately there will be someone here to help the church with teaching and preaching. He will minister to the needs of the congregation. He will help in the pastoral search. But this person will only be an interim. The constitution tells us how to organize a search committee and what the search committee will do in looking for a pastoral candidate.
As qualified candidates are found, the committee will investigate the merits of the candidates. They will consider the character, education, reputation, and teaching ability of the candidates. Then, if they feel there is one that would make a good pastor for us, they will present him to the church as a candidate as our pastor. There will be a time of learning about the candidate, getting to know them, and hearing them preach. Then ultimately the membership of the congregation will vote as to whether to call the candidate. If the membership votes to call the candidate and the candidate accepts the call, we will have a new pastor.
This is why I love the organization of the Longville Bible Chapel. Those who are members have a choice, it is not dictated to us who will be the next pastor, with God’s help and direction, we choose. We might think that we are inadequate to do that, but remember we are not left without Scriptural help in this. Several passages of Scripture talk about the qualifications of pastoral leadership, elders, and even deacons.
In Titus 1:5-9, we are told to select elders and overseers with certain qualifications that will make them good teachers. Also, 1 Timothy 3:1-7 describes the character of the pastor and in 1 Peter 5:1-4 we find the picture of an under-shepherd serving the congregation as serving the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ. I would encourage you to look all these passages up and read them. Be familiar with them. Let’s read that last passage. Peter is talking to those who are leading the church and he describes their mode of leadership as shepherding.
1 Peter 5:1-5
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."
I love how the church is described in Scripture. I suppose that is why I love the organization of the Bible Chapel. How would you describe how we are organized? Well, I hope you listen close, because this is an important aspect of who we are.
This is how we describe our church organization. We are a local nondenominational, autonomous, independent, fundamental, Bible believing organization of believers who are called to be God’s hands and feet in Longville and around the world. Let’s take a couple of minutes to talk about what I just said, because it rolls off the tongue pretty easy without any meaning sinking in.
We are nondenominational! Simply put, we do not belong to a denominational structure or hierarchy. We might think we an odd duck in that respect, but we are not out there by ourselves. There are over 35,000 churches in America that are nondenominational with over 12 million people that are apart of those churches. That is only about 8% of those who are a part of some kind of religion according to a 2010 religious census. Yes, we are a minority, but praise God we are still true to who we are in Jesus Christ. We have not caved in to accepting cultural compromises because of denominational enforcement upon us. We choose to not to identify with a denomination.
We are autonomous! That means we are self-governing. When we say that, we are not saying that we govern ourselves separate from God. Scripture makes it clear that Jesus Christ is the head of the body the church in Ephesians 5. However, we do not submit to an overarching rule of other churches, organizations, denominations, or other entities in our world. In other words, this body of believers has no hierarchy of church government that we must submit to like most denominations of Protestantism or Catholicism. We decide who will be the pastor here. We decide how the tithes and gifts that are given should be spent. We choose what to believe and incorporate in our statement of faith. This is why we have a constitution. It is what we have chosen, many years ago, as our framework as an organization. Because we are self-governing, we can choose to modify or change the framework through voting of members.
Because we are autonomous, we are not told what pastor we must have, we are not told that we must change what we believe by a denomination that no longer holds to the truths of Scripture. We are autonomous. I believe this is exactly what we see in the New Testament local churches that Paul and others started. There were times when the Apostle Paul was concerned about false teachings and practices in some of the churches he established, but he would exhort them, through letters, and other teachers to get back on the right track. He could not force them to do as he said because they were autonomous. It seems that they listened to him most of the time, but they still had the choice. They choose from among themselves, elders, deacons, and deaconess. They were self-governing.
We are independent! When you say that word about a child, it seems as though being independent is bad in most cases. If we were talking our being independent from God, you would be right to say it is bad. But what this means to us is that we do not depend on another organization or hierarchy for our existence. This could be scary at times because we will rise or fall all on our own accord. This does not negate our dependence on God. We must depend on God and His sovereign leading in our lives, but not the dictates or the economic support of a denomination structure. Because we are independent, we do not have the financial support of a denomination to help us pave our parking lot or make up for times when giving is down. We trust God, but we are independent from others.
We are fundamental in our beliefs. This simple means we hold to fundamental base or core principles of Scripture. In other words, we do not attempt to add to what Scripture teaches or take away from what we know in Scripture or even modify Scripture to compromise with culture or science. The Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. Though we don’t do it perfectly, our desire is to be obedient to its precepts. It is the fundamental reason for our existence as a church, the Body of Christ, here in Longville.
So, we are a nondenominational, autonomous, independent, fundamental, Bible believing family of believers, a local church in Longville. This is why I emphasize membership. The existence of this church as we know it today requires people who are willing to take the risk of becoming a part of what God is doing here. This body of believers is not controlled by a pastor. The pastor is to lead through his service to the congregation and through the teaching of Scripture in his sermons and classes. Though the Deacon Board is elected by the church, they do not control the church either. They serve according the framework of the constitution that the members of this church have chosen to implement here. The membership sets the direction and chooses where this church will go. That is why church membership is so important here.
This is not a pastor run church or a deacon run church. This is God’s church that He has called to do the work of ministry here in Longville. We need people who have experienced the saving grace of our Lord Jesus, who have followed Him in obedience to baptism, who stand in agreement with our statement of faith, to continue to taking this church into the future standing true to the truths of God’s Word.
Is that a risk? Some people think it is because they have been hurt in churches before. But isn’t keeping this church in Longville solid on the Word of God worth the risk? We see churches everyday being made to compromise the truth because of denominational structures or pastoral run churches. We have a pastoral run church in our local area, that when pastor decided to compromise on biblical marriage, the only thing the church membership could do was leave the church. Our constitution gives our church a way of releasing a pastor that no longer stands true to the Word. Here at the Chapel we have a solid core of Bible believing members that have held us true to Scripture. If you are not a member, won’t you consider being a part of what God is doing here? As a member you are needed to complete this body. You have the gifts this body needs.
Now, having said all that. What happens next in this family of believers. I often say that God called me to minister with you here and that is true. But it was by the vote of this congregation that God called me here. It was through a membership of Bible believers that wanted a certain kind of biblical and spiritual instruction. After I was called by God and the membership of this church called me, I accepted and attempted to lead, encourage, and instruct according to the fundamentals of the Word of God. It was through the membership you got me, whether you see that as good or bad. That is why membership is important to the direction of the future of this family of believers.
I love the people who are members of the Chapel. People who are willing to take the risk and serve in this body of believers. I also love the people who only chose to attend the Chapel. But my prayer is that if you care about the future and direction of the Chapel, you will take the risk of becoming involved as a member and sharing not just a vote in church matters but serving in your area of giftedness.