Measuring Growth

Measuring Growth

Attendance. Baptisms. Contributions. The “ABC method” of measuring congregational growth. Man’s methodology to be sure – but not necessarily God’s.

Now we all know that divisiveness, division and denominationalism are all dead wrong; they all run completely contrary to the Savior’s prayer for unity (Jn. 17:20-23), and are therefore thoroughly condemned throughout the entirety of the Scriptures (Prov. 6:12-19; 1 Cor. 1:10-13, 3:1-4; Phil. 1:27-2:4; and etc)… for the most part that is…

You see, as the females in my family are often so prone to remind me when it comes to their hair, “In order for it to grow out and be more healthy, you have to cut it back” – or, “trim off the split ends” as it were. The same thing is true in gardening, as sometimes certain plants have to be pruned in order to be more productive. It was to this truth that Jesus alluded, and then went on to apply to the spiritual world as well (Jn. 15:2).

Sometimes in order for a congregation to truly grow spiritually, and to grow more healthy – and healthfully – in the eyes of God, it must first be pruned and/or cut back. Division must, in some cases occur first – as mandated by Scripture! “For there must also be factions {divisions} among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you” (1 Cor. 11:19). In other words, the aforementioned “ABC method” of measuring congregational growth must be set aside in certain cases wherein sin is seeking entrance into the camp. When attendance, baptisms, and contributions are the one and only exclusive standard by which congregational growth is measured, then we are headed for certain disaster (Matt. 7:13-14; 1 Ptr. 3:18-21).

Keeping up the count at all cost, will eventually cost us everything. Some of the key considerations concerning God’s kingdom congregations, are the “righteousness and peace and joy” they are to enjoy, as well as the edification and encouragement that identifies them (See Rom. 14:16-19).

Attendance at the expense of righteousness is not only not healthy growth, but actually instead, quite deadly in both its influence and its outcome. There are times when we must divide from those who would bring certain, sinful, seductive and satanic elements into our congregations. And we must do so quickly; long before and lest their evil and ungodly influence has a chance to spread like leaven in a loaf, or gangrene in an otherwise thriving body. For if we do not, then the evil we’ve allowed to gain a foothold will eventually extend to epidemic proportions, infecting and infesting the entire congregation. And so, we must divide from those people who would spread these spores of sin and unrighteousness – no matter how much money they might place in the plate; how many people they may help put in the pews; or how much power and influence they might wield in the community. And the fact of the matter is, that God demands we do no less!

God’s list of those we must divide from, would include: those who would try to teach us to do things today that are contrary to, that deviate from, and/or that are not contained in, the doctrine of Jesus through His hand-picked apostles, as taught to the Lord’s churches (congregations) in the first century (See: Jn. 16:12-15; Acts 2:42; Rom. 16:16-18; 1 Cor. 14:33-37; Gal. 1:6-10; 2 Thess. 2:15; 2 Ptr. 2:1-3 and 3:1-3); those who are divisive, malicious, and factious (Titus 2:9-11); as well as those who are sexually immoral or deviant according to God’s definition (1 Cor. 5:1-6:11; Eph. 5:3-11; 1 Thess. 4:1-8; Rev. 21:8).

These are a few of the most prominent, promiscuous practices that simply cannot be allowed or tolerated in our congregations today, if they are to be considered as righteous and growing healthily for the Lord – even if it means our “attendance, baptisms, and collections” measurement must meander backward for a while in order to divide from such folks. Only such faithful and purposeful congregational and spiritual pruning will eventually bear much righteous growth and fruit for the Master. Let us never sacrifice holiness and righteousness as the people of God, for such man-made markers of success as such sins may masquerade as providing!

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Hate Your Traditions Yet?

Hate Your Traditions Yet?

Is our religion formed by the traditions we hold? I mean, when there is a tough issue raised in the church, we may say we go by the Bible, but do we really or do we ultimately err on the side of traditions? For instance, I love a cappella worship and most would agree. But, is it wrong if we have more than 7 songs? I remember getting corrected once for leading too many song (10) and in fact, I was scolded by one. For what? For singing too many praises to God? Uh-huh. I was shocked when someone even started citing “preference” rules to me as to why I was wrong. Another even went to the point of saying that I sinned. Extreme?? Yes, just a tad. Others have been corrected for not holding to similar “traditional practices.” Obviously, people can make whatever decisions about the church they want to make and claim it is essential to salvation.

Do you follow the Bible or traditions?

Do you follow the Bible or traditions?

We cannot make the argument that “I just want what I grew up with…” and it not be about tradition. The appeal itself is about past practice, which is, by definition, tradition. It puzzles me how many times Christians make mountains out of molehills. And, if you listen to some of the arguments carefully, many of them boil down to an appeal to church of Christ tradition, such like: “I don’t have a problem with it, but…” or “I don’t think it’s wrong, but…” or – and this is the granddaddy of all traditional arguments – “I don’t think it’s a salvation issue, but…”This is what is often the cause of numerous, numerous divisions and splintering.

So, are there traditions that we should hold to? Yes. Paul said, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). What traditions? The ones man makes up? Nope. For Paul also said, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8). Furthermore, Jesus said,“…And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:3). Paul told Timothy, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). I know. WOW!

So again what are the traditions that Paul talks about in 2 Thessalonians 2:15? Paul is talking about the authentic teachings of the apostles that were handed down orally before the New Testament was even available. O.K. So, what were they? Well, the people were warned against the traditions of the elders, which displaced and made void the commandments of God. Jesus said, “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men…” (Mark 7:7-8). So, the traditions that Paul speaks of are those which had been taught by inspiration because there is a night and day difference between the traditions developed by man and those which have been revealed by God. Today, those “traditions” is called the Bible: “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

But, what about man-made traditions, like the length of the sermon or what days (other than Sunday) we should worship God collectively? What about the order of worship? Or, are we under the impression that the Bible says, “Thou shalt not change any items in the order of worship?” What about the role of the preacher: Many church members have a clear expectation of what “their” minister should do despite the fact that the Bible already outlines what a minister is to do. Many consider the preacher as an employee or servant of the church and therefore, the church is an employer that determines the scope and duties of the work of their employee. Some make the statement: “We pay the preacher and we tell him what to do.” But, the Bible already tells a minster what to do (Romans 1, 10; 1 Timothy 4:12; 2 Timothy 2:2; Ephesians 4:11-12; 2 Timothy 3:14-17). And, if we go by the Bible, we learn that the minister is God’s minister (Romans 1:1).

Still, other traditions are things such like: Why do we have committees? Why can’t we use better curriculum if it is better? Must we make the rule only use the KJV or don’t come preaching here? Do we have business meetings just to have them so we can argue over non-important issues? There are too many others to write.

My purpose for writing this article is that we be cautious about traditions. None are set in stone. None are a test of fellowship. None are essential for salvation and it is sad to see all the heartache in the church because well meaning brethren could not distinguish between “law” and “tradition.” We need to study the Scriptures more (2 Timothy 2:15). We need to realize that even if some things were done by pioneer brethren years ago, this does not make them the authoritative guide. We must have a greater sense of tolerance for brethren whose practices, in areas of judgment, vary from ours. Sadly, man-made traditions are running people out of the church and keeping them from coming back. This should never be the case. This is why Paul states, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself” (Philippians 2:3). And, as simple as this verse is to understand, it has been quite difficult to fully believe and live out in the church. So, let us all have more Jesus and less ruthlessness in the church. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

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The Problem with Presumption

The Problem with Presumption

Presuming things.  Making assumptions.  Unfortunately, most of us are guilty of this.  Some call it “jumping to conclusions” (which, as it has been noted, can be a very painful exercise); others, “reaching a verdict without a trial.”  This usually happens when we venture to guess another person’s motives or judge a person’s life without having all the facts.  The danger of this is that we can be certain of our conclusion, then find we have missed the truth by the proverbial mile.

Presumption?  Presume Nothing!

Presumption? Presume Nothing!

Assuming things causes us to “know” before actually having information.  Solomon, by divine inspiration, wrote, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Prov. 18:13).  That applies to poor listeners in a conversation, but also faulty perception about one’s circumstances.  It is a biblical principle to be certain of a situation before ever uttering a word about it.  Think of how foolish it is to pass judgment without a full hearing!

Presumption also causes us to have boldness without a true foundation.  In 2 Peter 2:10, Peter refers to certain unrighteous people, saying, “Presumptuous are they, self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.”  They fearlessly and recklessly speak against others, even those in authority, based on personal opinions they confuse with the truth (here is the idea of “self-willed” or “arrogant.”)  They rant and rave about the object of their fury based on preconceived notions that they will not clutter up with the actual truth.

Furthermore, jumping to conclusions causes us to sin without restriction.  This is why David prayed, “Also keep back your servant from presumptuous sins” (Psalm 19:13).  It is a prayer for self-control against willful sinning.  He is speaking of this same arrogant spirit, using a word which is translated elsewhere as “proud.”  Willfully entering into sin hardens the heart, including saying something against somebody which we are certain we do not know with certainty is true.

It is so easy to convince ourselves that we know what is driving people or what has landed them in their present circumstances.  Job’s friends got into a lot of trouble because they unrighteously judged Job (John 7:24).  Let’s learn from their error and not make the same mistake.

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One Cup Call III

One Cup Call III

This little three-part, “ One cup ” article mini-series began with a simple phone call (Please see: http://churchofchristarticles.com/blog/administrator/one-cup-call). It continued in response to a request by a dear and beloved brother (please see: http://churchofchristarticles.com/blog/administrator/one-cup-call-ii). And it now concludes with this third and final installation, simply because I could not consider it as being complete without including the following, final, all-inclusive and incredibly informative and insightful passage, as recently pointed out to me by my brother, preaching peer, and fellow-author on this website, David Hersey – a brother whom I have never personally met, but to whom I am deeply indebted for his recent e-mail, emphasizing Luke’s account of Jesus’ institution of communion…

One cup literally? Is that what Jesus desired?

One cup literally? Is that what Jesus desired?

If you are one of my brethren of the so-called “one-cup” persuasion, may I very humbly and respectfully ask you to please consider with me, a couple of extremely important questions? While you are absolutely correct in noting from Matthew 26:27, that Jesus, “…took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying ‘Drink from it, all of you,” then how, and what, exactly, did Jesus Christ the Lord tell His disciples to do with “it” at that exact point? Matthew doesn’t give us the immediately following details, but Luke does. He furnishes us with some further, additional, and very insightful instruction, straight from the lips of the Lord and Savior Himself that occurred on this occasion. Please note very precisely, exactly how and what Luke reports Jesus personally and specifically instructed His disciples to do with “it” at that point. (The “it” being the fruit of the vine that is, because there could be no way when Jesus said “drink from it,” He was commanding that they all drink from the same, one, literal container; and this for at least a couple of immutable reasons: #1) He was speaking metonymically as discussed in “One Cup II,” and #2) Luke 22:17 itself):

Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves…” (Luke 22:17).

Obviously they did not take out a saw or chisel and cut or split apart and divide up the literal “one cup” into multiple parts! (If they had, it wouldn’t have held any liquid at all.) But they sure were commanded by Jesus Himself to divide “it” – that is to say, the container’s contents up – before they drank of the fruit of the vine. As long as it was in that one container, the fruit of the vine was not divided as Jesus commanded. And, when they did divide it up among themselves… what exactly would they have put it into? The only obvious answer here that I can see, is that the only possible way they could have complied with Jesus’ commandment to divide it up amongst themselves, would have been by each one pouring a portion of that fruit of the vine into their very own, personal, individual containers before partaking. Otherwise, they weren’t complying. Otherwise, they weren’t dividing it up as He had instructed… were they? How could they have been?

And so, with all due diligence, respect, humility and love, might I therefore say, that if indeed it is true (as some of our so-called “one cup” brethren seem to have concluded), that using more than one cup during the communion celebration Jesus was instituting that evening is indeed a sin… then the very Son of God Himself, both sinned and commanded and supported His disciples’ sinning that evening as well – therefore condemning Himself even more by insisting on their sinning (Romans 1:32). Additionally, isn’t it therefore true that for anyone to condemn, refer to as heretics, or to see as unsaved, those who would simply make use of multiple containers in this celebration instead of just the one, is to condemn, refer to as heretics, and view as unsaved, Jesus’ apostles, and yes, even Jesus Himself! (And what Christian would really want to separate themselves from Jesus and His disciples? But to insist on separating ones’ self from any and all ‘multiple cup’ groups, would have to mean separating from this one which divided it up and then drank… wouldn’t it?)

I hope that someday the good sister who inspired this discussion with her phone call might somehow see and explore these articles. And I hope that after careful and prayerful biblical re-examination of some of their one-cup convictions, both she and her husband might be able to one day make their way to Cleveland, where they will then be completely comfortable worshipping with their beloved and blood-bought brethren here in the one body of Christ.

But I hope and pray that even more than either of those two things, that perhaps in some corners of our beloved and blood-bought brotherhood, some honest hearts might be truly touched by these three articles; touched enough that honest and sincere biblical re-examination and study previously-held perspectives might occur; and that maybe, just maybe, the one body of Christ might be pulled just a little bit closer back together, as we draw together on the Lord’s Day to celebrate what gave us that divine unity and priceless oneness in Christ in the first place – not the container, but what it contained represented: the all powerful and all-cleansing blood of Jesus Christ the Lord! God bless!

 

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Transgression or Progression

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