Friday Briefing 21 (4 June 2021)

How Does the Cross of Christ Make Sense of the Kingdom of God? Jeremy Treat writes, “Countless books on the kingdom hardly mention Christ’s cross. Volumes on the cross ignore Jesus’ message of the kingdom. The polarization of these two biblical themes leads to divergent approaches: cross-centered theology that focuses on the salvation of sinners or kingdom-minded activism that seeks to change the world. . . . . It’s as if we are left with a choice between either a kingdom without a cross or a cross without a kingdom; this false dichotomy truncates the gospel and cripples the church.” But these two themes are wonderfully integrated in Scripture. Treat explains how.

Mourning the death of a dwelling place Hayden Hefner writes, “Several years ago, my wife and I purchased our first home. Several weeks from now, we will lock the front door for the last time. . . . . . . . locking the front door for the last time will feel like a sort of death. It is the fading away of a physical reminder. It is the death of a dwelling place. But, he writes, ”The death of an earthly dwelling place reminds us we have a new and better homecoming . . . .

A tale of two liturgies Matt Merker writes, “We should see the church’s worship service—the whole thing, not just the sermon—as a mass discipling activity. . . . . Since the gathering is such a powerful corporate discipling tool, we should treat liturgy with care. ”

One Thing I Did Right in Ministry: “I Started a Book Table” Tom Ascol writes, “One of the first things that I did when I became pastor of the church I now serve was to start a book table where good books at discounted prices were made available to our congregation.” Ascol explains how books have strengthened discipleship in his congregation.

How Does the Cross of Christ Make Sense of the Kingdom of God?

Jeremy Treat writes, “Unfortunately today, many Christians either cling to the cross or champion the kingdom, usually one to the exclusion of the other. Countless books on the kingdom hardly mention Christ’s cross. Volumes on the cross ignore Jesus’ message of the kingdom. The polarization of these two biblical themes leads to divergent approaches: cross-centered theology that focuses on the salvation of sinners or kingdom-minded activism that seeks to change the world. Whole churches or movements are built on one idea or the other. It’s as if we are left with a choice between either a kingdom without a cross or a cross without a kingdom; this false dichotomy truncates the gospel and cripples the church.“ Treat asks how these two central themes of Scripture came to be pitted against each other and comments, “We need a better way forward than “kingdom versus cross.” And it’s not enough to merely seek “kingdom and cross,” as if these were two competing values that need to be held in tension. The key is not balance, but integration. And that’s exactly what we find in Scripture, an unfolding narrative that weaves together atonement and kingdom like a crown of thorns, fit for a crucified king.” After briefly tracing this narrative, he concludes, “The kingdom comes in power, but the power of the gospel is Christ crucified.”

Read the whole article HERE. This article was published in the August 2019 issue of the 9Marks Journal, an issue entitled The Heart of the Gospel: Penal Substitutionary Atonement. This issue contains 23 articles, including J.I. Packer’s classic lecture entitled What did the Cross Achieve: the Logic of Penal Substitution. You can download the entire issue free of charge, either using the link on the left-hand side of the page containing Treat’s article, or from the page HERE. Dr Jeremy Treat is the author of The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology (the publishers page is HERE) and Seek First: How the Kingdom of God Changes Everything (the publishers page is HERE).

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Mourning the death of a dwelling place.

“Several years ago, my wife and I purchased our first home. Several weeks from now, we will lock the front door for the last time. If I’m being honest, the thought of selling our little home makes me sad. This house has been the backdrop and base camp for some of the most memorable and formative moments of our life together. . . . . . . . locking the front door for the last time will feel like a sort of death. It is the fading away of a physical reminder. It is the death of a dwelling place. He comments, “having a home is a good thing. Home is God’s idea. . . . . We were not made for walking away from home.” In his conclusion, he writes, ”The death of an earthly dwelling place reminds us we have a new and better homecoming—one not subject to peeling paint, weather damage, or financial foreclosure, but designed and built by the Lord (Hebrews 11:10).”

Read the whole article HERE.

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A tale of two liturgies.

Justin Taylor shares an excerpt from Matt Merker’s book Corporate Worship: How the Church Gathers as God’s People (published by Crossway; the publisher’s page is HERE).

Matt Merker explains, “Many theologians have called the order of service a “liturgy.” The Greek term leitourgia referred to work done for the good of the public. When used in the context of a church gathering, “liturgy” refers to the “work” or ministry of exaltation and edification for which God gathers his people—or better, that God himself performs in and through his people.” He writes, “For me, liturgy refers to the order of the worship service, particularly how it reveals and reinforces the nature of the service itself. ” Merker points out: “We should see the church’s worship service—the whole thing, not just the sermon—as a mass discipling activity. . . . . Since the gathering is such a powerful corporate discipling tool, we should treat liturgy with care.” Merker shows how this works in practice by taking two contrasting orders of service, from the gatherings of two different churches. These churches have congregations of the same size, use the same musical instruments and have the same theological beliefs. But their liturgies are different, in ways that are significant. His first example is an order of service typical of many evangelical churches. The second is an example of a gathering at a Presbyterian church in Brazil. Merker then notes four weaknesses of his first example. One of these relates to prayer and the public reading of Scripture. Merker comments, “this order of service leaves two of the most essential elements of corporate worship out to dry: prayer and Scripture reading. There is no other Scripture reading in the service, aside from what the pastor might read in his sermon. And the prayers serve as transitions, not as substantive elements of worship in their own right.”

The message to take away is this: if key elements of the order of service are missing, or if the order of service is disjointed or theologically weak, the worship service is less glorifying to God, less effective in building up believers, and less able to communicate the Gospel message to unbelievers in the congregation. Through the prayers, the Scriptures being read, the preaching, the hymns and songs, through baptism and the Lord’s Supper, we should, as Merker writes, “strive to fill our services with the life-giving water of the Word of God.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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One Thing I Did Right in Ministry: “I Started a Book Table”.

Tom Ascol writes, “One of the first things that I did when I became pastor of the church I now serve was to start a book table where good books at discounted prices were made available to our congregation. . . . . . . . within a matter of months we had a table full of good titles for sale as a fixture in our foyer. Within a year or two, the “Book Table” became a line item in our budget and the church adopted a policy that if anyone who wanted one of the books but could not afford to pay, he or she could have it in exchange for a promise to read it. I often recommend books both publicly and in private conversations. When someone takes my recommendation I try to follow up in a few weeks to ask what they think of the book, what they are learning or if the book has raised any questions for them. That has led to some very fruitful conversations and opportunities for ministry.”

Ascol concludes, “Through the years I have seen good books supplement the ongoing preaching and teaching ministry of the church, encourage personal and spiritual growth, help with counseling, equip for ministry and help people develop a growing love for truth. . . . . So I would encourage every pastor to start a book table if one doesn’t already exist in the church he is serving. That is one thing that, by God’s grace, I did right early in my ministry.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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Some thoughts on open participation in the Sunday gatherings

Paul writes to the church in Corinth: “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.” (1 Corinthians 14.26a). In his commentary on 1 Corinthians, Gordon Fee comments that what Paul writes here “offers a description of what should be happening at their gatherings” . He notes that “It is possible that some of this was already going on; but the rest of the context, including chapter 12, suggests that this is a corrective word rather than a merely descriptive one. Martin . . . offers the possibility that the repeated “has” may be a form of reproof; however, nothing in the text itself mildly hints at disapproval here.” So, in a nutshell, Paul is saying that when the church is gathered, different members should be contributing to the meeting according to their particular gift or gifts. Paul follows this by writing, “Let all things be done for building up.” (1 Corinthians 14.26b).

The New Testament pattern, then, is that there should be sufficient opportunity to allow contribution from a variety of people, and flexibility to allow the Holy Spirit to direct the meeting, whilst maintaining order (1 Corinthians 14.26,40). And everything that is contributed should be for the edification of the whole gathering. In David Peterson’s words: “Paul’s emphasis is on coming together to participate in the edification of the church” . Some contributions will be spontaneous. Others may be prepared beforehand (this would typically be true, for example, of much of the teaching). Some contributions will be shorter; a few may be longer – for example, contributions by those who are gifted as teachers. Each gathering, too, will differ – some may find their focus more on teaching, some others on prayer, for example.

In an article that you can read HERE, Nick Berube, who was a pastor for 43 years, writes, “In 1992 I planted a church in St Paul (Christ Community Church) . . . . A good 15-20 minutes was separated for ‘Sharing’ from the congregation. We tried to have a 90 minute service but more often it was closer to 2 hours. Sometimes a bit beyond. And I’m sure that the length eliminated a few folks. Maybe a lot! But our thinking was built on what we perceived as a dearth of spiritual impartation by the body to each other. And many complained and thought that could be better met by a system of small groups. In fact, one couple that visited thought our service was more like a big small group, which they meant largely as a critique, but we felt that the trade-offs were worth it.”

Berube comments, “If we do not provide a venue for the general sharing of the body in a worship service or small group, we run the risk of creating an elite that alone can speak the word of the Lord. And that is not to dismiss gifted preachers who should indeed be handling the bulk of preaching and teaching, but there must be a place for the larger body to bring their unique perspective into the mix of a worship service. And as I share these sentiments, I am also personally aware of pastors and friends who would consider these thoughts anathema. And there are decent reasons for so thinking. There are a lot of ways for this to go off the rails. But if there is sufficient teaching and healthy leadership during the worship service that can be minimized. We did this for 18 years at Christ Community Church with far more blessing than weird off-key expressions.”

For many years, from the 1970s to the early 2000s, my wife and I were part of a church in Surrey, UK. In this church’s Sunday gatherings, there was a high degree of participation by others besides the leader of the gathering and the preacher. There was considerable freedom for people to share, for example, by teaching from the Scriptures, or through prophecy, etc. But, despite the freedom for anyone to share, start a hymn or chorus, prophecy, etc., it was noticeable how rare it was for there to be anything ‘out of order’.

But this kind of gathering is rare in the modern Evangelical church. It’s interesting to ask why this is. Gordon Fee gives one answer in this same commentary on 1 Corinthians a few pages further on: “By and large the history of the church points to the fact that in worship we do not greatly trust the diversity of the body. Edification must always be the rule, and that carries with it orderliness so that all may learn and all be encouraged. But it is no great credit to the historical church that in opting for ‘order’ it also opted for a silencing of the ministry of the many.”

Why do we need a wider degree of participation in our gatherings? Three reasons come to mind:

 Those who have even a small amount of gifting – in for example, teaching – will have regular opportunity to exercise that gifting and grow in it. If they are denied such opportunity, how will their gifting be developed? How will the church be edified with the gifting that God has given them? If such opportunity is lacking, both they and the whole church will be impoverished.

 If there is opportunity to contribute to the gatherings, there will be motivation for members of the church to seek God during the week for something to share in the coming gathering. These members will look forward to the gathering, not only in anticipation of receiving edification, but in giving edification to their brothers and sisters in the body. If there is no opportunity to participate, that particular incentive to seek God for something to share is absent – and so again, individual members and whole church are in danger of being impoverished.

 In the church that my wife and I attended it was often the case that a contribution – whether, for example, a teaching, a prophecy, a prayer, or a word of encouragement – sparked off another member to contribute, and so on like a Spirit-led chain reaction. It was wonderful to see this happen. If there is no opportunity to participate, such a ‘chain reaction’ will not happen. And so, again, individual members and whole church will be impoverished.

Finally, here are a few comments about the actual practice of ‘open’ participation in the gatherings.

 Rather than opening the whole time for open participation, just a portion of the gathering might be specially set aside for this – as happened in Ned Berube’s church, where “A good 15-20 minutes was separated for ‘Sharing’ from the congregation”.

 Gatherings where open participation is encouraged require wise Spirit-led oversight – unobtrusive, yet ready to intervene when necessary to guide the proceedings.

 Open participation needs to be encouraged and guided through Biblical teaching on this subject – for example, teaching on the various spiritual gifts, and on the purpose and practice of the gatherings.

 Ned Berube commented that “many complained and thought that could be better met by a system of small groups” . However, if such participation is restricted to small groups alone, then the whole church will not hear and be edified by what is contributed in the group. It also places considerable demands on the small group leader to exercise wise oversight of the gathering. Not all small group leaders may be equipped to do this.

 Finally, it’s worth pointing out that spontaneous contributions are not necessarily to be valued above those that are prepared beforehand. The key thing is whether what is shared with the gathering is guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit, and therefore edifying to God’s people.

CREDITS Text copyright © 2017 Robert Gordon Betts All Scripture quotations (other than those in quotations from other writers) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.