First a caveat. If you are committed to societal relevance in church programs, seeker sensitivity, the emerging church, or are easily upset or offended in this regard, you might want to skip this article…
How many times have you heard the mantra from Real Estate sales people? Location, location, location!
Well, for the assembly of believers it should be similar in a way. Foundation, foundation, foundation!
Summing up the discussion of church leadership models, and with The Cambridge Declaration in mind, it all comes down not to the model, but to direction and focus, irrespective of the model. Granted, it may be argued that one model or the other might have advantages depending upon the criteria. However, it is where we vest our group focus that makes the real difference, not how we might choose to structure the hierarchy.
I previously cited the comments of a Christian brother, who pointed out that the key was not the model but whether the assembly focus was on foundational matters. He particularly referred to a focus on the Bible above all else (notice that is on the Bible, not on material or programs about the Bible). I would add to that a consequent focus on clear education in sound doctrine and basic foundational theology. Those are the only appropriate places for focus that reflect a biblical perspective. As soon as the focus shifts to other priorities, though in and of themselves they may be important and meaningful in Christian life, then the whole body moves inexorably to become more secular. Since all creations outside a biblical focus are by definition of man, then they are also secular in equal proportions. The results, then, can not be other than equally secular in nature. And the body creating those results becomes more of the world by default.
This does not mean that the results in themselves are not good, effective, well intentioned, meaningful, supportive of Christian life and world view, and more. They may well be. However, and let us be clear, they are not biblical in nature and they are not based on the pattern laid out in Scripture. It will be argued that they are implicitly so. Sorry, no sale! I just don’t buy it. Nor can anyone taking a biblical view, without very creative exegesis. Scripture states that the things of man, as with natural man himself, are unable by definition to please God, due to their natural state.
Does this mean that such activities and programs should not happen? No, that is not what is being implied at all. Quite the opposite actually. The Lord also made it clear that the elect were to walk in the good purposes that had already been put in place in advance of creation, stepping forward in His name. These programs, activities and more fall into that category. But the critical factor here is perspective. The horse goes first, not the cart, and the activities are definitely the cart. The horse is a clear and over-riding primary focus on the Bible and the Lord. Anything else comes from that, after the fact and as a result of the work of the Spirit.
The primary (and in fact only) priorites for the church are (in equal importance) the plain delivery of the Gospel message to the unsaved (the whole message it should be noted), and the development of the saved (elect) in foundational Scripture, sound doctrine, and possibly related theology. This plays out in assembly and worship based in the Bible, fellowship in seeking Bible knowledge and direction variously, and sharing the Gospel message with the unsaved as the Lord presents opportunity.
What about other programs in support of self, family or societal actualization – even clearly productive ones? As a primary focus of vision, sorry, no sale again. These are after the fact of the primary task already stated. They can only correctly flow out of success in addressing foundational matters. Any success outside that primary directive is outside the Lord, irrespective of its value or benefits in the physical world. Why? Because the results aren’t based upon Him unless He is the focus. They are based upon the one who creates them – man. As such they can never please the Lord according to Scripture, no matter how good they are for the world or even for other believers. Only things based in Him, in seeking Him, and learning about Him, can create things that please Him. The Holy Spirit creates the rest out of those activities.
What does this all mean?
It can only mean that there is only one God approved focus or vision for the body of believers, and that is Christ. Since the only concrete thing that He deemed to leave us in hand was the Bible, then that is fully sufficient and the only primary focus. Seems pretty simple actually.
People may try to add many things and visions, implying that they reflect on the Lord positively. That may be true, but unless they come from seeking Him through what He left us, the Bible, leaving the rest to the Spirit, then they don’t meet the mark. Again, the outworking in the world is the after effect, created by the Spirit, as a result of immersion in Scripture and the Lord. Scripture does not state anywhere that the process can be the other way around. That is the way of the world and the antithesis of our Lord’s intent.
Vision can only stare directly at Christ, and therefor the Bible. Forget the programs, even the good ones, as far as vision goes.
In practice this means biblical, doctrinal and theological preaching and teaching. Modern relevance and application are not relevant, so to speak. Beyond that, for the assembly of believers, it means being lead into Scriptural immersion, discussion and study of foundational doctrine and theology, and group worship and prayer. Of course the result will be relevant, but by the hand of the Holy Spirit, working in the elect – not in the hands of men, even men of the church.
With the focus on foundational matters, all the other out workings will certainly evolve, but after the fact of Glorifying and concentrating on only Him. Vision based otherwise may be of good intent and even good societal result, but does not Glorify Him alone. To some degree at least it must glorify its creators, men. That is inappropriate for His people.
Soli Deo Gloria