Expounding on the 12 Principals #8: The Principle of Worship (by Jon Shuler​​​​)

For many, if not most, the first contact they have with the church is when they attend a local gathering of the body of believers. Someone has invited them to “come and see.” When the Holy Spirit is manifestly present in the believing community, and the true word of God is preached, some who were strangers moments before come, almost immediately, to a place of faith. It is a wondrous thing to behold. Once it occurs, no matter how dimly understood, that person wants to be present when the church gathers to worship. To be present on the Lord’s Day begins to be their custom, just as it was the Lord Jesus’ custom to attend the synagogue on the Sabbath. Sunday by Sunday faithful attendance becomes their pattern of devotion, and they rarely miss “the assembling together.”

But if there is not clear biblical teaching they may come to a place of great peril. They begin to imagine that the Christian life is a pattern of church going, rather than a pattern of learning from, and obeying the Lord Jesus. They imagine that worship, as understood in the word of Truth, is church attendance alone. They may even confuse worship with songs of praise and hymns.

The principle of worship that must be understood, however, is that worship is the response of the whole person to the love of Christ Jesus that has come to them. They are indeed to adore and praise him with others weekly. They are to give thanks, to intercede for themselves and others, to make supplication, to cry out in penitence in the midst of God’s people gathered, to give him all their praise. But that is not the principle of worship fully lived if it is only on Sunday. What then is missing?

The worship God the Father seeks is that which comes from worshippers who “worship him in spirit and in truth.” This, at the very least, means when believers gather they are coming ready to be touched afresh by the truth of the gospel. They are not coming to have their ears “tickled” by smooth words, but are coming to hear the pure Word of God. They come wanting the Holy Spirit to awaken their cold and sluggish hearts. They come to be fed by the mystical gifts provided by their Lord Jesus, that only faith can receive. And they come knowing that the Sunday assembly is to lead them to a daily worship that is just as real, just as central, just as holy as that which they share with others on that day.

“Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, which is your spiritual worship,’ the Apostle says. There is no part of your life that is not to be worship. Your rising and your going down, your waking and your sleeping, your work and your play. Seeking to live a holy life in all things is to be your worship.

And to discern what is the “good and perfect will of God” for you, is the heart of a true worshipper. To pray for the transformed mind that alone will lift the soul from earth to heaven. A daily desire, a daily yearning, a daily life chosen in Jesus.

Used with permission, https://joncshuler.wordpress.com/

Next Week: The Principle of Systematic Discipling

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Expounding on the 12 Principals #8: The Principle of Worship (by Jon Shuler​​​​)

Expounding on the 12 Principals #7:  The Principle of Biblical Authority (by Jon Shuler​​​)

This principle, some will surely say, should be placed first. They may indeed be right, but for this series I have chosen to place it here because so many in the historic churches have experienced the progression to this principle by steps of faith, and not as a beginning foundation. I have frequently stated that trust in the authority of Holy Scripture is a presupposition that must come to be believed if there is any hope of true reformation, and I will stand by that as an essential building block of what it means to be a church founded on the preaching of “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Without the Holy Scripture, today, we would have no apostolic testimony that could save. So why here?

First of all, most people meet the Risen Lord Jesus long before they understand the biblical testimony to the truth of the gospel. They have heard the gospel preached, or explained, in a way that reaches their heart. They know themselves to be lost. They have realized they must repent, acknowledge Jesus as Savior, and have then yielded their lives to the living Lord. Their experience is that he has received them as his own, and he has taken up residence in their hearts. As a dear brother said to me recently, “Now I don’t just believe in him, I know him.” The Incarnate Word is the first word they believe and receive.

Secondly, the testimony of other true believers is the most frequent way a new believer comes to faith. The living Lord Jesus in another person shines forth to them. They believe because they “see Jesus,” whether they can explain it or not. The witness, verbal and non verbal, of a true believer is the catalyst of true faith in others. The word seen and heard in the body of Christ, the church, is the milk they next receive.

This is perhaps the reason that belief in the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God was not a part of the creedal faith of the early church, or so I believe. It was a universal conviction of the faithful community. It was the air they breathed. It is in that sense, that the teaching authority of the believing church did indeed come before the authority of the Holy Scriptures was ever articulated, as some critics of classic Christianity sometimes remind us. But it was assumed that they were the authority over every other.  It was impossible for them to imagine that any other authority was, or could ever be, primary. To suggest so was to be in grievous error.

Step by step the first communities accepted the writings of the apostles as having the same authority they had when in person. After the death of the apostles, and the ever widening knowledge of the writings they or their companions left behind was received, the church universal embraced and canonized the New Testament as the equivalent of “the apostle’s teaching” that had been the center of the church’s life from the beginning.

It is now time to reassert as a principle that without devotion to the teaching of the Holy Scripture, to the “whole counsel of God” in Christ Jesus, their is no faithful church.

Used with permission, https://joncshuler.wordpress.com/

Next Week: The Principle of Worship

Expounding on the 12 Principals #7:  The Principle of Biblical Authority (by Jon Shuler​​​)

Expounding the 12 Principles #6: The Principle of Lordship (by Jon Shuler)

The church of Jesus Christ submits to Christ, and to no other. She has only one Lord, and he must reign in, among, and over all who believe in him and have been reborn in him. Anything less is either a church that has lost its first love and must repent, or no church at all.

Of course when we speak like this we are using the word “church” in the way it is always used in the New Testament. We mean the community of the faithful. The living, breathing men and women who have “put on Christ.” The heart of this community is the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. It is the fellowship of those reborn by water and the Spirit. It is a band of believers “devoted…to the apostles teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread and the prayers.” It is a community that knows one another well, and cares for one another well, and is no stranger to the lives and homes of other believers. It is not a gathering of polite Sunday worshippers who smile at others whose names they do not know, and then return to lives lived outside the will of Christ.

But, some will say to me, ‘What you describe is so different from what we experience in the local congregation that we attend, how can this be normal?’ My answer must be, the “normal” in most congregations today is gravely “abnormal” when compared to the life Jesus commanded his followers to live if they were to be his disciples. The crowds paid attention to Jesus, of course, and a smaller group followed him from time to time, but the ones who truly attended to his words and were committed to walk in his way were an even smaller number. As we know all to well, there were very few at what seemed like the end as Jesus hung on the cross. Perhaps only three. Even in the days before Pentecost there were only 120 left in Jerusalem, and that after a three year public ministry of the Lord. These were the ones who would soon be accused of turning the world upside down, and that did not happen because they were casual Christians.

Centuries of tradition have come to adhere to the life of most of the historic and long established churches, and like too many barnacles on a ship, they often impede the purpose for which she was made. More attention is sometimes paid to the traditions of men, than to obedience to the Word of God. All too frequently much more attention than to the clear word of Jesus. He is spoken of as Lord by many, but is he obeyed as Lord? If he is not obeyed as Lord has he really been received as Savior? This is the crux of the principle of Lordship.

If the church in decline is to be rescued from its free fall, by the grace of God, the members of the local body can not continue to be allowed to imagine that their faith is secure if they disobey the Master. Even more critically, as we have repeated said, the church’s leadership cannot be allowed to lead disobediently. To do so makes a travesty of their profession of faith.

Either Jesus is Lord or he is not. There is no other sign of true faith.

Used with permission, https://joncshuler.wordpress.com/

Next Week: The Principle of Biblical Authority

Expounding the 12 Principles #6: The Principle of Lordship (by Jon Shuler)

Expounding the 12 Principles #5:   (by ​Jon Shuler​)

5) The Principle of Serving.

There is no part of the human body that was not created for a purpose. Each limb, each organ, every major system, indeed every cell has a purpose. It is possible to live after the loss of some, but each of the manifold parts was created to be supportive of the whole. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. As it is in the human body, so it is in the church. The constituent living cell is a believer, and every healthy cell in the body has a purpose.

The Apostle Paul writes of the church as the body of Christ, and the Apostle Peter gives us the image of a living temple. Whether we think organically of the body, or more structurally of the temple (though remember it is a “living” temple), each believer has a part to play. None are to be passive, even if hidden, because each is needed for the common good. To serve the Lord means not only to serve among his people, but also to serve his people.

We argued in an earlier post in this series that every believer is to find the work that the Lord has created them to do, that is their unique and particular ministry. As the journey of faith unfolds, this early work, or ministry, often becomes the primary calling of their life. But here we are describing a different element of the healthy church, not vocation. We are describing a willingness to be used, even outside of ones gifting. This serving is the readiness to do whatever needs to be done. This serving posture is for all.

To begin the journey of a Christian is to learn that we are to be stewards of all that God has entrusted to us. Central to this is to begin to exercise the common grace of serving others. We discover that Sunday worship is vital and normal, but we also learn to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God. When we learn to tithe, that is to return a tenth of our financial resources to the Lord, we are serving the body. When we begin to take part in daily intercession for the mission and ministry of the local church, we are serving the body. If we agree to do some simple act of service for a member in need, we are serving the body. In such ways we learn not to hold back from the needs of the church. We offer ourselves to fill a gap. We serve the body of Christ.

And to what end? Why does it matter that all learn the principle of serving? Because the Lord who created us calls us to this. We are part of the family of God, and we share in the common life. We have received so we can give. We have been blessed so we can be a blessing. Our model for this way of life is Jesus Christ our Lord.The one who came down from heaven to save us, gave himself for us. We are servants of the servant Lord. The whole body of Christ is to grow up into the head, into Christ. It cannot do so unless every part is working together for the common good. All are called to be a serving disciples.

Used with permission, https://joncshuler.wordpress.com/

Expounding the 12 Principles #5:   (by ​Jon Shuler​)

Expounding The 12 Principles #3:  (by Jon Shuler​​​)

3) The Principle of Being Sent

Passive Christianity is not true Christianity. To always be learning, but never acting, is not faithful but faithless. To be watching what other believers do, but not moving out for oneself, is not to be a “follower of Jesus,” but a “watcher.” Rarely did the Lord ask for that response, except near his fateful hour in the Garden of Gethsemane, and then his desire was for their active prayer. From the earliest day of his public ministry, his invitation to those who drew near was “follow me.” And the purpose of that call was so that those following would learn to be a sent ones. They were to share in the ministry of spreading the kingdom of God.

Some who began to follow might fall away, but none who remained faithful would fail to arrive at a time to be sent. There was good news to share and healing to announce. To be sent was to be truly alive in Christ. Thus it always is when the church flourishes.

But is this for every Christian? The clear testimony of the Holy Scriptures, and the history of the church in every season of grace, declares it to be so. A true believer grows up into the ministry of the whole body. The church in any age will never be healthy when this is forgotten. The love of Christ demands it of all faithful followers. No community that “submits to Christ” can neglect this truth.

How then is this to be reclaimed in a day when the church is in disarray? How can this pattern of life be restored, when many of those called to lead avoid the challenge of speaking the truth to those who do not yet know it? When a willingness to be sent is rare, what is the true follower to do? Jesus must be the example. The Lord “came to seek and to save that which was lost.” This reality was at the heart of all that the first disciples witnessed him do. And to this day, when someone turns their heart toward Jesus, and begins to learn from him, it becomes clear that this is their ministry also.

The restoration of the broken and mistreated, the deliverance of the oppressed and the healing of the sick and the blind, must be proclaimed. And when these blessings come, they come that those touched may yield to his gracious rule. First his sovereign rule in this life, and then his glorious rule to all eternity. No one who belongs to him is to miss this calling. They are to hear the Lord saying: “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” And when they hear they prove to be his by saying: “Here am I, send me.”

This readiness to be sent is a state of being, an attitude of the heart, not an act of going to a specific place. The specific assignments will be given, and for the majority they will be very local. Most will be sent to their own spouse, their own children, their own town. Their obedience will not be a long distance affair.  And to know to whom they are sent will not be difficult: “The daily round, the common task, will furnish all they need to ask.” The willingness to be sent, moment by moment, is not optional. It is to be a Christian.

Next Week: 4) The Principle of Discipling.

Used with permission, https://joncshuler.wordpress.com/

Expounding The 12 Principles #3:  (by Jon Shuler​​​)

An Advent Prayer (by Manik Corea)

Advent is a season of celebration and preparation. It calls us to look back with gratitude for the incarnation of our Lord, and to godly repentance and active readiness for his second coming. It is the yearly reminder to the people of God of the ultimate destiny we are called into, a kingdom we must all seek, work for and proclaim, as we await its consummation in the return of Christ.

Against the three-fold enemy of God’s people – sin, the world and the devil, it calls us against despair and doubt, to renewed hope and faith in His plans, purposes and power to bring about His transformative purposes in our world.

The following words from poet Roger Spiller is a prayer for us to seek to partner and participate with God in His mission and advent hope for our world today. May it be your prayer and mine today….

Lord, you call us to be story-tellers:
planting your explosive news into our defended lives;
locating us in the script of your human history.

You call us to be trailblazers:
living in your future that we receive only as gift;
subverting the fixed, fated world of low horizons.

You call us to be weavers: tracing, stretching, connecting the knotted threads;
gathering up unravelling, disconnected lives.

You call us to be fools – for Christ’s sake:
bearing life’s absurdities and incongruities;
puncturing our seriousness and grandiosity.

You call us to be hosts:
welcomers of the sacred, intimate, transfiguring;
lavish celebrants of our communities and homecomings.

You call us to be poets: artists and illuminators of inner space; naming, invoking, heralding your ineffable presence.

You call us to be gardeners: sowers, cultivators, nurturers of fragile lives;
benefactors of your gratuitous harvest.

You call us to be conductors celebrating polyphony, coaxing symphony; orchestrating the praise of your inhabited creation;

Lord, you lavish gifts on all whom you call. Strengthen and sustain us and all ministers of your church, that in the range and diversity of our vocation, we may be catalysts of your kingdom in the world, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

An Advent Prayer (by Manik Corea)