Scripture Reading Challenge (#14)

God does not point out our sin to laugh at us or scorn.  Instead, he reveals our issues so that we can deal with them appropriately.  That is, to be cleansed and forgiven.  In the story of Genesis, the brothers need to make a second trip to Egypt.  They will face their sin one way or another.  Joseph is building with excitement to reveal his unfeigned love for his brethren.

Read Genesis 43:1-44:34

Something that should be jumping off the pages of the Bible to us about this story is Joseph is dropping hints to his brothers all the time.  In Genesis 42:18, he says, “for I fear God.”  The word used for God is Elohim, which can be a generic term to identify any God. However, the writer of Genesis uses it to signify the One True God of Israel.  It’s possible that Joseph is letting his brothers know that he fears their God.  We also see in our text today that He knows that his brother’s and father’s God blesses (Genesis 43:23).  This Egyptian is very well acquainted with the Hebrew God.  Egyptians probably had cultic practices and perspectives against Hebrews.  Finally, the individual interest he took in his full brother, Benjamin, and the extra food he gave him (Genesis 43:34).  All I can say is Joseph may have disguised himself from his brothers, but at the same time, he is trying his best to get them to recognize him.

God is doing the same thing.  First Timothy 1:17 and Colossians 1:5 reminds us that God is invisible.  He has dropped hints all the way through the Old Testament about his character in that is it claimed, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalm 14:1)  The Psalms also teach, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalm 19:1).  God is fully revealed in Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:5).  The Father has made himself known fully in the Son and witnesses in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.  Even more, Christ has left us the Church, His literal body on earth.  First John 4:20 says, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”  It is difficult for me to believe someone has faith in God but does not live in faithfulness with the Church (by participating in

It is difficult for me to understand that someone has faith in God but does not live in faithfulness with the Church (by participating in fellowship with a local congregation).  We have faith in the invisible head of the Church but no faithfulness to the visible body.  God has revealed Himself fully in time past through His Son.  Today, God continually reveals Himself through His people.  Our bodies are the temple His spirit dwells in now (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  Not something made with human hands but fashioned by God.  So, again, how are you living out the faith you claim to have?  God has given us the Church as the community where we are to live out our faith.

Christian Planning

The default Christian mixture of planning minimizes the role of people and lifts up our dependence on the leading of God.  The problem is when those that are carnal find themselves in positions of leadership and espouse a spirituality that is a cover up for a laissez-faire attitude toward any type of preparation and planning.   There are those who actually feel unspiritual if any kind of planning takes place in regards to worship or programs that would require planning.  Too much planning is believed to cut God out of the picture and elevates man’s locus of control.  On the opposite side of the spectrum, we see those that plan all the activities of the church in a way that could easily ease God out of the life of the church.

God wants us to search for His will

In First Chronicles 15:1-14 there is a record of David’s preparation for the ark of God to be brought to Jerusalem according to God’s Word.  David lived in a time where the past King (Saul) did what he wanted and had forsaken the counsel of God.  Alfred Edersheim wrote, “It was surely time to restore the ancient worship which had been so sadly disturbed” (Vol. 4, p. 170).  This was a massive undertaking for the new king and ended up being a failure on his first attempt.  This was mainly due to a lack of consulting the written law of God and relying solely on human effort.  David made a second and fruitful effort after seeking God’s will for handling the ark.

In the New Testament the same understanding of seeking God’s, will first before planning and doing.  However, it would also seem that there is still a significant focus upon human involvement in the planning of the life of the church.  As such, much of the New Testament shows that people from different cultures had different understandings of how to planning would take place in the early church.  Such as who should take leadership in the church and who should be taken care of (Acts 6 for example).  Ken Schenk shared, “It makes perfect sense that the concepts of order and peace would play themselves out differently in different cultures, as well as in various groups and denominations today” (p. 201).  Those approaches considered decent in one culture may not have been the case in another.  Culture seems to be an inevitable part of the human side in organizing the life of the church.

Led by the Spirit

Primarily concerning worship, John 4:23-24, transitions our understanding of the mixture of planning in the church by the Divine and human elements.  This passage sets up a strong implication that worship has a high degree of freedom in the Spirit.  Joseph Dongell pointed out that, “Only through divine assistance – through the Holy Spirit – may a person worship God appropriately” (p.80).  If we understand that all of life is worship to God, then the Spirit must also lead any time spent in organizing the life of the church.

What would this mean for an individual such as Charles Grandison Finney, who has made such an impact on the revivalist movement (he popularized the use camp meetings, revivals, choirs, and the altar call)?  Finney pointed out, “That a revival is the result of the right use of the appropriate means. The means which God has enjoined for the production of a revival, doubtless have a natural tendency to produce a revival” (part 1, paragraph 4).   He was intent on the human side of the mixture, maybe so much that it betrays His understanding that God was the instigator of movements whether they are a revival or other projects the church concerns itself with.

It would be interesting to have seen such an individual of Finney and his method of bringing revival and Anne Hutchinson, a puritan, that led a movement engrossed with the idea of simply being led by the Spirit alone.  Hutchinson wrote, “a believer possessing the Holy Spirit was not bound by laws of conduct but was moved by inner spiritual compulsions” (Noll).  Finney promoted a certain way of doing things and actions that had to complete to prepare the way for the Spirit to take control.  Hutchinson taught that actions flowed from being led by the Spirit.

Balance is the key

It would seem that a balanced understanding of the leading of the Spirit and the importance of human involvement is the necessary approach.  John Calvin wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, “It was cold and lifeless to represent God as a momentary Creator, who completed his work once for all and then left it” (paragraph 1).  To leave God entirely out of the equation would be dangerous and foolish.  Therefore the organization of the life of the church has to be founded upon Him.  James 4:13-17 shares God’s frustration with those who plan and leave Him out of the process.  As it is written, “For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (James 4:15).

Yet, it would seem fair to surmise from scripture that the human element of planning is entirely done away.  Our plans and preparations should be made but also allow for the spontaneous change of plans by the Spirit.  Such is the case of the Apostle Paul in Acts 16:6-10.  Paul had a desire to go one direction, but the leading of the Spirit pointed him toward another direction.   It would be essential for any Church leader is that planning is part of the calling but that it is subject to change by the leading of the Spirit.  The leading of the Spirit takes precedence over all organizing.

Conclusion

Saint Augustine wrote that we are to “Pray as though everything depended on God.  Work as though everything depended on you.”  The balance that should be sought in having the right mixture of divine and human elements is one hundred percent on both ends.  God is the author and finisher of everything that we do.  We ought to seek His will on all matters of life, especially as it concerns organizing and making decisions regarding the church.  We also understand that it is impossible to remove the human element of decision-making and even such things as the cultural context on the person.  It is also the will of God to use people to accomplish His divine plan for their life and the local congregational context.

Decisions making, planning and organizing rest upon the leading of the Spirit.  It is up to us as leaders to seek God’s will.  In times where He allows us to have a greater say in the matter, we still pray, “God this is how we see you leading us in the matter.  But, if you desire to change this, we pray that you change it up and lead us by your Spirit.”  There needs to be a confidence that God’s will is being accomplished, even when it seems that human minds and hearts have seemingly done a majority of the planning.  There must also be a surety that God’s ability to bless or change the agreed upon plans by people may come.

References

Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Accessed March 27, 2014, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.iii.xvii.html

Edersheim, A. Bible History: Old Testament (Vol. 4, p. 170). Oak Harbor: Logos Bible Software. 1997

Finney, Charles, Lectures on Revival.  Accessed March 27, 2014, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/finney/revivals.iii.i.html

Noll, M. A. Hutchinson, Anne. In (J. D. Douglas & P. W. Comfort, Eds.) Who’s Who in Christian History? Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House. (1992).

Schenck, Kenneth. 1 & 2 Corinthians: A Commentary for Bible Students. Indianapolis, IN, Wesleyan Publishing House. 2006

Nehemiah – God’s Change Agent (Ch. 3)

Projects are sometimes complicated and slow.  However, the organization of a group can prove to be a useful companion in accomplishing tasks.  Chapter three shares in a detailed log how the people were divided into groups (primarily by families) and the particular area that they rebuilt and repaired.  It is the first of four lists of names found in the book (3, 7, 10, and 11-12).  Skipping over these lists is tempting.  However, in our approach toward leadership and change, we find two critical lessons from this chapter: appreciation and strategic change.

Appreciation

I usually consider it dangerous to recognizing people during a church service as either guest or for appreciation because often someone is left out unintentionally.  Still, people like to feel appreciated.  The reward for faithfulness is great for strengthening people’s loyalty, the direction they are going, and for their personal encouragement.  This can take place with sending a letter, an uplifting word, public recognition, a gift or something else befitting the work and person receiving the appreciation.  For these people, Nehemiah is giving them an enduring legacy in God’s Word.

Strategic Change

We have already talked about burden, vision, and mission but we now change direction toward putting things to work.  For leaders to create movement from the present reality toward the future vision, the intentional creation of a strategic plan for change is needed.  And, there are plenty of good, solid theories about how change takes place.  However, when it comes to Churches, they have a unique and spiritual design.  This happens because of the focus of the church is on worshipping God and making disciples.  The goals of the church are different than that of other non-profit or profit organizations.

How should Churches proceed?  Well, the first step forward has been created in the previous two chapters.  Prayer, carrying a burden, speaking with other leaders and creating a shared vision, understanding the resources available, and the size of the task have all been important pieces of change.  First, let’s look at Scripture and its encouragement to planning as a wise endeavor if we seek to keep God first.

  • “Grant thee according to thine own heart, and fulfill all thy counsel.” (Psalm 20:4)
  • “Good understanding giveth favor: but the way of transgressors is hard.” (Proverbs 13:15)
  • “The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way: but the folly of fools is deceit.” (Proverbs 14:8)
  • “The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.” (Proverbs 14:15)
  • “Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.” (Proverbs 16:3)
  • “The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness, but of every one that is hasty only to want.” (Proverbs 21:5)
  • “For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?” (Luke 14:28)
  • “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:15-18)
  • “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.” (James 4:14-15)

So, what is a strategic plan?  Basically, it is a tool for keeping an organization focused on whatever is considers to be its vision and mission.  For churches, this is making disciples. Helping individuals and families follow Jesus is our great commission.  It is easy to become distracted, and the main thing is no longer the main thing.  It helps a group become aligned in their particular gift sets, personalities, and the resources accessible to them.  It is the road map between the present reality of the organization to the preferred future.

Developing a Strategy

What does the strategic plan include?  Well, that will be different depending on the congregation.  It’s not that the goals are different (each church should be trying to fulfill the great commission) and it is certainly not that God is different anywhere else.  He is always the same.  What is different is the people, who have each been created with their own gifting.  The resources available to that group is also different.  However, each congregation has equal access to the Holy Spirit, and none should be paralyzed by the thought of the impossible.

The strategy begins with an understanding of where the organization is currently.  SWOT is a useful tool to analyze with, and surveys can help leaders gauge where the organization stands.  Some of my personal favorite surveys have focused on church health.  Church health surveys, in my opinion, are more geared toward the dynamics of ministry rather than church growth perspectives.  The ABC’s of church growth (Attendance, buildings, and cash flow) have their place in helping a church understand what it available to it but can mislead leaders and volunteers to lose their way.  A church health focus helps a church stay centered on impacting lives for eternity.

From this point, leaders can then create the actions steps as they feel the Spirit leading.  With the end in mind, the leaders will typically plan for where they envision and desire for the organization to be in ten years.  At this point, return to thinking about one year out.  What action steps will you need to be taking in one year to aim towards the ten-year goal?  You can either go year by year or even look at every couple of months.  However, I will look at just another year for example.  You can put new goals for that year, but there is another perspective that needs to thought of in each subsequent year.  That is the progression of the previous year’s actions.  If your organization keeps practicing the previous benchmarks behaviors, what will be the results?  It is important to keep evaluating and realigning along the way.  We will see this in the next chapter of Nehemiah.

 

Nehemiah – God’s Change Agent (Mission & Vision)

One thing that I notice about leaders of organizations is that there is a significant amount of confusion between vision and mission.  Especially when it comes to the small church.  These guiding principles are essential for keeping the members aligned to God’s will for a congregation’s ministry and areas of focus.  The short way of understanding the distinctiveness of vision is a robust, long-term view of what an organization wants to take place in the future.  The same approach to mission is a shorter and narrower perspective of what the organization is presently doing to achieve the larger vision.

In light of Nehemiah, we can see a clear vision and mission resting upon him.  What follows is a demonstration of what vision and mission would look like in light of Nehemiah’s behavior and actions.  These are my musings of what was happening in Nehemiah’s mind.  Possibly, or maybe not.  The present reality of Jerusalem was dire, and the Jewish population was devastated.  Nehemiah was given four facts about his people and Jerusalem (Neh. 1:3).  The people were in great affliction, meaning oppressed by poverty and other people groups.  They were also in great reproach.  To be under reproach is to be disapproved by others, to receive derogatory remarks, and to be mistreated because of a perceived low status.  The city gates were continually burned like trash heaps, and the protective walls were broken down.

So, what was Nehemiah’s long-term vision?  No doubt, when he looked forward in time, Nehemiah saw from a far distance, a city built on a hill that could not be hidden.  Merchants and travelers walking with excitement toward Jerusalem.  He didn’t see smoke rising from a destroyed city, but perhaps he could see smoke rising from a restored temple as sacrifices were offered.  As he walks closer to Jerusalem in the vision, he can see the walls standing firm and providing protection to all the inhabitants inside.  The gates were bustling with life when open and formidable obstacles invaders could not pass through when closed.  As he walks through the city as he pictured it in the future, businesses are thriving.  Families are healthy and happy.  The order is maintained.  The people are devout in their faith.  The leadership is strong.  The buzz in the kingdom is that Jerusalem and God’s people are respected among the other nations.

Sounds like a beautiful vision, but there needs to be a bridge built between the present reality and the preferred future.  This is where the mission comes in for Nehemiah.  If the vision is where he envisions Jerusalem to end up, the mission is what is happening in the present that positions them toward achieving the vision.   It’s simple but it is more than a few words, or it becomes a motto.  Nehemiah 2:17 finishes with a great mission statement, “Let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach.”  It is succinct and clear.  We don’t have any questions about where their focus, resources, and energy are going.  The people react to this clear mission with excitement by creating a good short motto, “Let us rise up and build” (2:18).

I pray and hope that this little journey through mission and vision help you to understand the benefits for your organization.  We see the results that Nehemiah achieved as a faithful steward of God’s vision and the resources God put in his hands.  Perhaps this will be a tool for you to move forward where you serve.

Nehemiah – God’s Change Agent (Ch. 2)

By the time the second chapter opens, Nehemiah carried his burden for Jerusalem and his people very close to his heart for almost four months.  He had been able to keep straight faced until this period while at work.  We are told that before this time that Nehemiah, “had not been beforetime sad in his presence” (Neh. 2:1), speaking about King Artaxerxes.  Yet, his countenance betrayed Nehemiah, and the king questioned what was wrong since he was not sick.  Nehemiah was afraid because his job requirement was to be happy in the king’s presence.  He shared quickly about the plight of Jerusalem and the king further questioned if there was a request from Nehemiah.

Burdened in Prayer

We do not know any of the plans or preparation Nehemiah had made up to this point.  All we see is Nehemiah’s prayer in chapter 1 for God’s grace to keep coming upon Israel and for Nehemiah to have mercy in the sight of the King each day.  However, Nehemiah’s burden overtook his ability to smile, and the king noticed and reacted with the mercy Nehemiah prayed about.  At the king’s question about a request, Nehemiah did not roll out his power points, his agenda, or his vision.  At least not the vision at first.

Nehemiah first prayed (2:4).  We can imagine this was a prayer raised in his heart since he was before the king and did not want to appear unprepared.  However, even short, unspoken prayers can be heard and answered by our great God.  Romans 8:26 reads, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”  Jesus shared a parable about a publican’s humble prayer justified him when only saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13-14).  We serve a prayer answering God.

Philippians 4:6 says, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”  We would be much better off if we brought everything before the Lord in prayer.  In prayer, we not only receive help with material resources, although that can happen, we also receive help with guidance and peace from our Lord.  As Psalm 37:5 also says, “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.”  By prayer, God stokes the fires of passion emitted by our burden.  By prayer, God directs our feet into the path we should go.  By prayer, God enables us by His sufficient grace to approach and apprehend the issues we face.  By prayer, God revives us when we are weak and tired.  By prayer, God receives praise for the good hand He places upon our shoulder.

Consulting and Resourcing

After the prayer, Nehemiah makes a simple statement to King Artaxerxes, “If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my father’s sepulchres, that I may build it” (Neh. 2:5).  At this point, Nehemiah’s vision was simple but clear: to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the walls.  However, the King needed more information, at least one piece that scripture points out.  How long would this project take (2:6).

We learn two things about the change process from this simple question.  Nehemiah was pleased with the question apparently because he knew the king was not mad or against the project.  In fact, he took it as a green light to go ahead and proceed.  We shouldn’t be afraid when people ask essential or tough questions about our vision.  Sometimes, finding the answer to those questions help to clarify for them, and us, the vision and the what is needed to accomplish successful change.  It promotes a team culture and builds a shared vision.

Secondly, we learn that time is a valuable commodity.  Vision ultimately outlives the visionary as others pick it up and keep moving it forward.  However, the projects and changes needed to take place require a time frame.  Volunteers are recruited easier when they know they won’t be enlisted forever.  Also, we are kept on task knowing that there are deadlines.  Procrastination is a killer force to change.

Once Nehemiah set a time, which we don’t know, but we do know he took 52 days to complete the walls (6:15), he was aware that resources were needed to accomplish his task.  After the king had accepted the time frame, Nehemiah went on to seek protection and supplies.  He wanted further proof of King Artaxerxes blessing to rebuild the walls by letters and the procurement of goods.  We live in a world that works with materials, economies, and legalities.  We must be aware of these issues in our planning and preparations, or we will be blindsided and discouraged by these barriers.

Trouble on the Horizon

Chapter two hints toward and then will fully unveil the greatest obstacle Nehemiah would face, other people (vs. 7, 9-10, 19-20).  Three men, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, were governors of the neighboring regions.  Even more, they were from people groups that Israel fought against when they first possessed the land.  They would use increasing levels of persecution against Nehemiah: mocking, physical harm, deception, and power plays in wielding influence.

Their attempts to stop the work of rebuilding were futile.  Namely, as alluded to in the Scripture, Nehemiah and Artaxerxes was open to the possibility of resistance (vs. 7, 9-10). However, being aware and prepared, though very important, is only part of the change agents success in dealing with trouble, whether people or other issues.  First, you have to keep faith in God.  We serve a big God and “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us” (Romans 8:31)?  Secondly, we keep coming to that God-given burden.  Having a passion for an issue or project will help us keep mustering strength when going against the grain.

Clarifying the Vision

The last thing we note from chapter two is that Nehemiah only knew about the destruction of Jerusalem.  He did not see the actual devastation until he arrives in verses 11-18.  We are then told that Nehemiah did a late night inspection of the walls when no one else was looking.  Once he came back, he was more committed than ever and rallied the people with greater clarity.  What happened?  He saw reality.  His presumptions were confirmed, but the actual size of the work was no doubt changed.  He wanted to see the whole city restored.  He told the King that the gates were broken down, but now he fully saw that the protective exterior walls have been entirely destroyed.  For anything to move forward, he now knew that the walls needed to be the central focus.

We can have a vision of what we would like to happen or what we feel God prefers.  However, if we do not see the actual reality around us, we will underestimate the size of the work ahead of us.  It’s like a taking a leap.  We see where we want to land but if we do not look at where we are, we won’t know how much exertion is needed to make the jump.  We not only need a vision of the future but we need to clarify our vision with the present.  Assessing the current state of our churches or organization is vital if we are to cultivate a lasting change.

Nehemiah – God’s Change Agent (Ch. 1)

After being in captivity for 70 years in Babylon, in 536 B.C., the first group of Jews returned to Israel under the leadership of Zerubbabel, the kingly descendant. In 458 B.C., Ezra the priest led the second group, and in 444 B.C. a third group was led by Nehemiah.  Zerubbabel led the rebuilding of the temple, Ezra restored proper worship and understanding of the law, and Nehemiah rebuilt the walls.  Work on the temple and Ezra’s attempt to restore Israel’s religion was hindered until Nehemiah came and led the people to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.  Before the walls were rebuilt, the city was defenseless to raiders and those who would sabotage the work and heart of the people.

Who was Nehemiah?

We are told in the book named after Nehemiah that he was the “king’s cupbearer” (1:11:).  The Persian King Artaxerxes trusted Nehemiah with his life since Nehemiah was to taste test everything before the king to make sure it was not poisoned.  We also know that Nehemiah had a happy soul because he was never sad before the presence of the king (2:1).  God had placed Nehemiah in a strategic place for the purpose of securing resources and the kings blessing to rebuild the walls the Jerusalem.

A Burden for Lasting Change.

What does Nehemiah have to do with change and why do leaders continually look to this book for inspiration?  Especially as it concerns our local churches and service before God.  I believe it is because Nehemiah demonstrates to us the foundation of producing real and lasting change.  Now, most consultants and other leaders will start with a vision and may quote some verse about not having a vision.  However, Nehemiah was not in Jerusalem, and he was not aware of anything needing help in Jerusalem.  He was unconcerned at first until he had a burden.

The book begins with Nehemiah receiving a message about the deplorable state of Jerusalem.  The walls were still broken down and were the laughing stock of the surrounding nations.   At this news, he broke down and mourned for some time (1:4).  It is not at this point that Nehemiah started to develop a vision.  No, instead he sought after God’s help.  Once we lose sight of God, we begin to be reckless. We cast off certain restraints from activities we know are wrong. We set prayer aside as well and cease having God’s vision in the little things of life. We naturally begin to act on our own initiative.  If we are eating only out of our own hand and doing things solely on our own accord without expecting God to come in, we are on a downward path.

The information that the messenger revealed was a dark contrast to Nehemiah’s knowledge of Jerusalem.  This presented a conflict in his soul that something more needed to be done.  He now had a burden and was cultivating it before God in prayer.  It would even affect his demeanor before the king (2:1-4).

What we learn in the episode of Nehemiah’s account is that burden must be present for change to occur.  It is a burden to make a difference that will help a person move forward with their work even when facing extreme difficulties.  A burden will stay when helpers are not found.  A burden will still be present when resources are low.  Yes, that can produce some pains, but it strengthen’s passion and a desire to follow-through with commitments.

Do you have a burden for a needed change in your church?  Or, in your life?  Seek God to imprint on your heart a strong desire to do something that in turn will point others to Christ and empower the believer to greater devotion before God.

 

 

 

Why Christian Baptist? Four Reasons.

Last year I wrote a couple of posts about the Christian Baptist Association (What is Christian Baptist? here & here).  This is the association of churches that I have my ordination through and pastor.  There was a time when I was a member of another group of Churches in the local area, but, the Lord led me to move into the same association that I had grown up loving.

The full name of the group is The Ohio Valley Association of Christian Baptist Churches of God.  You can only imagine the questions people have about this long and unique name.  However, that is not where this post will have its focus.  Instead, the focus is on why I find such a deep love for the Christian Baptist.  There are four reasons given here, among much more that I think will help readers to learn more about the Christian Baptist and to encourage my fellow members.

The Bible is our final authority.

It is our conviction that all things must be brought to Scripture.  Scripture is the revelation of the Triune God and any work outside of it is opinion.  It seems that many denominations are moving away from this standard and have elevated personal experience and emotional biases above the Bible.  I have witnessed outside of our association and a few within it, who receive any teaching that labels itself as Christian and balk at any attempt to reconcile it with Biblical teaching.  However, everything we need to know about worshipping God and living Christlike is found solely in Scripture.

We love God’s Word and are fully persuaded of its integrity.  We do not need to add personal experiences or opinions to Scripture to validate it.  Sure, those things are helpful in interpreting, but the Word of God is sufficient in and of itself.

The Holiness Accent

I am not speaking of stereotypical “holiness” groups.  Instead, we preach and teach that Salvation of the person is complete and perfect for making a person whole.  One reason that I hear many of my fellow members give for being Christian Baptist is that “We have the great doctrine.”  What does this mean?  Are we the only group with the right belief?  No, and I don’t believe anyone in the association implies that as well.  We share doctrines with other denominations that are essential for one to be called Christian.  There is truly only One Church, and it reaches across the globe and throughout time.

This section is labeled The Holiness Accent.  An accent is the”accentuated” or distinctive pronunciation in a language.  So, when I speak of my holiness accent, I am referring to my underlying assumptions and inclinations.  The holiness accent does not relate to our focus on external prohibitions of dress and behaviors (though we ought to have a godly lifestyle).  Rather, we accentuate the fact that believers are saved to the “uttermost.”

God does not justify a person and leaves them with their old nature.  Instead, when we are saved we are made new in Christ, and He imparts His nature to us.  Believers do not sin every day when they are entirely given over to be led by the Holy Spirit.  I heard it recently said, “It is our responsibility to keep from sinning, but it is God who gives us the power to keep from sinning.”

In summary, our holiness accent is that we preach and teach that believers can be fully transformed by God’s grace in this lifetime.

Freedom of Worship

There are many expressions of worship.  Shared in Scripture is that God seeks worship from those that are in spirit and truth.   These Biblical requirements for worship can be seen in both spontaneous and planned worship.  However, with planned worship, it is very easy to write God out of the plan and focus on man’s emotional and intellectual experience.  One thing I love about the Christian Baptist Association is that we are not afraid to worship God audibly and visually.  We are not Pentecostal in several regards of expressive worship, but we are certainly not afraid to express our love and thankfulness to God.

Our Heritage

I was raised Christian Baptist (my wife is from the Churches of Christ in Christian Union). However, I did not join one of the local churches at first.  I joined the Kentucky Christian Conference that was based near Morehead, Kentucky.  After a few years, God directed my path back to the Christian Baptist, and I have been here for last eleven years, pastoring one of the congregations for almost nine years and still there.  Now, I am raising my children in the Christian Baptist.

My heritage is in the Christian Baptist, and a significant portion of my family call this association home as well.  Yet, I also share a great love for our more extensive history.  I have studied the history of its coming together in 1931 and the leaders and laity of previous generations.  Listening to stories of past victories, miracles, and blessings that God has brought to pass in our camp meeting and the local congregation have been and continue to be formative in my spiritual walk.