I love the church. I love the church like I love my own mother…and that’s a lot! It is right and good for me to feel this way, although it has not always been so. Consider the words of John Calvin,
“As it is now our purpose to discourse of the visible Church, let us learn, from her single title Mother, how useful, nay, how necessary, the knowledge of her is, since there is no other means of entering into life unless she conceive us in the womb and give us birth, unless she nourish us at her breasts.”
And these from Cyprian of Carthage in the 3rd Century,
“You cannot have God as your Father unless you have the Church for your Mother.”
I had the wonderful joy of being a pastor for eight years in Virginia Beach, VA. During my time there I was blessed with a wife, five children, many friends, and a deeper understanding and appreciation for Christ’s Church. When we decided that a move to Little Rock was wise and good at this stage of our lives, I began thinking seriously about planting a church. With that thought came LOTS of questions. What is a church supposed to be? What should it look like? What should be our foundation? Our purpose? Is another assembly of believers really needed, or should I just look to get involved in a church in need of a pastor?
This post is the first in what I hope to be a frequent string of thoughts and discussions as I work through these issues. I have decided to separate the discussion into three main subjects. Hills to Die On, Houses to Live In, and Rooms to Decorate. Let me just explain the categories now and begin to flesh them out in the days and weeks to come.
Hills to Die On: These are the doctrines and their outward implications that form the foundation of Christ’s Church. Every church in every age in every corner of the earth should have these truths as their foundation. The shepherds of such churches should indeed be willing to die on these hills. There should be no retreat or compromise whether from enemies outside the camp or within the gates.
Houses to Live in: While there is no more important decision than the foundation on which you build (just ask that foolish guy with nothing left but sand between his toes), it is also crucially important the kind of house we build on that foundation. “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.” –1 Corinthians 3:11-13. These are not foundational stones, but neither are they merely matters of preference either. It is the difference between gold and silver and hay and straw. It is not our own opinions, the current George Barna poll, or the sinful appetites of worldly men that determine what the house will look like. The Head of the Church, the great Cornerstone of the Temple has clearly defined for us in His Word what materials with which we should be building even as the houses take on different shapes and sizes. We want to build upon that foundation with things that adorn the gospel with beauty in whatever context or culture we find ourselves. And we want that beauty to go much deeper than a cheap mascara. We want it to be strong and lasting and not get all gooey and make a big mess along the way.
Rooms to Decorate: These issues in the life of the church may sound like trivial things at first glance. Why get caught up in such issues? Can’t we all just love Jesus? Yes, but loving Jesus looks like something. Love is not invisible. Love has hands and feet and words and…well, you get the point. Try telling your wife that it doesn’t matter what color the bathroom walls are painted. It should be enough that the house has a good foundation and the walls will not fall down. After all, it’s just a bathroom where dirt is washed off and waste is disposed of. Right? No, of course it matters. God is not simply in the business of building foundations or house frames or walls and ceilings. His redeeming grace is moving from the floor to the attic and making everything holy and beautiful in between. His kingdom is not a valley of dry bones or even moving bones, but of bones clothed in flesh with life breathed into them. Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, gives the best explanation I have found concerning these type of issues:
“This is not an issue [he is talking about a church having multiple services] over which you should split the church! This is a persuasion-level belief. It is not a conviction like the divinity of Christ, over which we should break fellowship upon disagreement. Nor is it a mere opinion, like what color the carpet should be. It is a persuasion—we’ve evaluated the Biblical data and have been persuaded that a particular conclusion is warranted. Even though it is not a matter that touches the doctrine of salvation, it is still a matter of some importance addressed sparsely—yet we believe consistently—in Scripture. We may seek to persuade others, as we have done here, for the edification of the church. but to fracture church unity over a matter such as this would be unwarranted.”—Dever, The Deliberate Church
I welcome your own thoughts and suggestions along the way. May the Lord miraculously fill this tiny mind with an impossible amount of heavenly wisdom!