Leaders Who Sin

Burning Question:  How do we decide what sins are “acceptable” or are sufficiently repented of in order for someone to lead in church (i.e., help with Vacation Bible School, teach Sunday School, sing in choir, etc.)?  Also, if sin is sin to God, aren’t our sins of impatience or losing our temper easily at home, gossiping, etc. just as bad, although more easily hidden?

Say a child disobeys his parents and the parents decide to discipline the child as a response.  We would all agree that the parents’ response is expected and necessary. However, the way the parent disciplines will be dependent upon the type of disobedience displayed by the child.  To take away privileges and rewards for two weeks may seem completely fitting for one type of disobedience but would be dramatic overkill for a lesser offense.  All disobedience is equal in the eyes of the parent in that no disobedience is ever good, yet the consequences of disobedience are determined by the specific, individual nature of each act of disobedience.

Now take all of this, and apply it to the Burning Question above.  Within the context of church ministry, all leaders are hardened sinners with a long history of offenses before God.  There is no leader in any ministry at any point on the globe that does not have a long track record of disobedience against God and man.  Yet God still offers redemption, forgiveness, and an offer to use the life fully yielded to Him.  With that being said, we have to be certain that we do not use our struggle against sin as an excuse for our sin.  We must be intentional about living a life of personal holiness that we might be glorifying to God and most useful to Him (2 Timothy 2:15).

Leadership in the local church carries tremendous responsibility and is not to be taken lightly.  Yet some areas of leadership and service carry such great responsibility that grave sin can result in enormous consequences for the one who sins and the church, as well. Therefore, it would seem to be wise for churches to consider the personal walks of those who seek to lead.  In my opinion, there is a difference between service and leadership . . . all believers are called to serve God and He has even prepared good works in advance for us to carry out (Ephesians 2:10).  But leadership is not automatic and is not a “right” for any and every believer.  Perhaps this is why so much emphasis is given to those who serve as pastors and deacons, that their walks with God be proven in advance (1 Timothy 3:1-7, 1 Timothy 3:10).

Some areas of leadership and service simply create greater opportunity to benefit others when handled properly, or greater opportunity to hurt others when handled poorly.  At the end of the day, any sin in the life of one who claims to follow Jesus hurts themselves and others.  But just as some crimes today are considered minor in offense and others major, so some sin also carries the capacity to be minor in its consequence, and other sin more major in its consequence in the lives of others.

Maybe the following considerations would be helpful when action is considered in the life of a church leader who has embraced sin:

  • Has the leader sufficiently repented of and addressed the specific sin?
  • Is the sin dealt with specifically in Scripture?  If so, would the same response be acceptable in the present case?
  • How many people are affected negatively by the nature of the leader’s sin . . . will they be caused to stumble or to become confused by what is acceptable for a follower of Christ (Romans 14:13)?  How greatly is the name of Christ and His church brought into reproach because of the leader’s sin?

There is no clear formula in Scripture that dictates the proper church response to any and every sin in the life of a leader.  Humility, prayer, seeking wise counsel, and dependence upon Scripture and the leadership of the Holy Spirit are all important in responding properly when sin invades a leader’s life.  In light of all that is at stake, may our aim be that of          1 Peter 1:16 . . . to be holy, as He is holy.

Why Not Use The Apocrypha?

Burning Question:  Why is it that we have the specific 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, but ignore the Apocrypha and other “gospels” and “epistles”?

For those who come from a Catholic background, there is often greater familiarity with the Apocrypha than for those from a Protestant background.  What exactly is the Apocrypha?  In a simple explanation, it is a collection of books written by men but without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Some of the books contain doctrinal and historical inconsistencies and others are outright heretical in their content.  Though the Roman Catholic church includes the Apocrypha as part of Scripture, the Protestant church does not.

In the Catholic church, some of the more aberrant theological positions that are found nowhere in the Old or New Testaments (prayers for the dead, justification by faith plus works, etc.) are supported by the Apocrypha.  However, the books of the Apocrypha should not be considered as part of inspired Scripture.  According to notable theologian Wayne Grudem in his book Systematic Theology (p. 59), this is so for the following reasons:

1)  The books of the Apocrypha do not claim for themselves the same kind of authority as the Old Testament writings;

2)  The books of the Apocrypha were not believed to be God’s Word by the Jewish people from whom they originated;

3)  The books of the Apocrypha were not considered to be God’s Word by Jesus or the New Testament authors;

4)  The books of the Apocrypha contain teachings  that are inconsistent with the rest of Scripture.

In addition to the Apocrypha, we sometimes hear of other books claiming to be considered God’s Word.  Sometimes these are presented as the “lost” books of the Bible or the “other” books of Scripture.  We must keep in mind that the canon of Scripture is closed.  We can have complete confidence that the 39 books which comprise the Old Testament and the 27 books which comprise the New Testament are the only books rightly considered to be “God’s Word”.

Interestingly, the Bible supports itself internally as God’s Word.  In 2 Timothy 3:16, the Greek word “graphe” is translated for us as “Scripture”.  Each time this Greek word is used in the New Testament (over 50 times), it refers to the Old Testament writings.  So Paul is saying in this verse that the Old Testament is God-breathed, or inspired by God, and this inspiration did not include the writings of the Apocrypha.  Obviously, we can also see this passage as supportive of the New Testament, as well.

Concerning the New Testament, 2 Peter 3:15-16 affirms the inspiration of the New Testament as Peter equates Paul’s letters with God’s Word.  1 Timothy 5:18 also affirms the inspiration of the New Testament books as Paul affirms Jesus’ words with Scripture.  The Old Testament prophets often recorded or spoke “the word of the Lord”.  Again, in each of these instances, the writings of the Apocrypha were not included but only that which we consider to be the 66 books of Scripture.

Do not be led astray when new voices today claim new inspiration on level with Scripture.  Whether a counter-Christian cult group that embraces “another” book of authority outside of the Bible, a popular preacher claiming a “new” word from God, or a New York Times bestseller that puts outside writings on level with Scripture, remember that we only have one Word of God.  Thankfully, well translated and presented in 66 books written by over 40 human authors across a span of approximately 1500 years, inspired by the One, True God with the overarching theme of salvation through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ alone.

So what are you waiting for . . . go read it today!

Deacons

Burning Question:  Is there a biblical reason that women cannot be deacons?

For most churches, part of their organizational structure includes not only a pastor or pastors, but also deacons.  Across denominational lines, practices vary as to who “qualifies” to serve as a deacon.  Perhaps the biggest question surrounding the qualifications for deacon pertains to whether the position is open to women as well as men.

First of all, the Bible makes it very clear in Genesis 1:27 and elsewhere that men and women have been created equally in the image of God (that started with God, not Thomas Jefferson!).  However, the Bible seems to draw distinct conclusions as to certain limitations as it relates to leadership within the local church.  Passages such as 1 Timothy 3:8-13 speak of the expectations of a deacon and these expectations also include certain understandings.  One is that the deacon is to be a man specifically, as we see in verse 8 (“men of dignity”), verse 10 (“men“), and verse 12 (“husbands of only one wife”).

Understandably, there has been much discussion about this topic of whether women are biblically allowed to serve in the position of deacon.  Some very well-respected evangelical leaders who hold to the authority and inerrancy of Scripture come down on opposite sides of the fence in relating to this topic.  Sadly, this discussion in our evangelical culture today has often evolved into outright hostility with both men and women giving full vent to their anger.  What is often lost in the rhetoric is that God has all right to place parameters upon the leadership structure of the local church.  These parameters have nothing to do with who can do a job better (every believer has unique gifts and equipping by the Holy Spirit).  These parameters also have nothing to do with whether one gender is any better than another (for all are created equally in the image of God).  It would seem, however, that the parameters God sets for pastors and deacons traces back to the creative order in Genesis 1-2.  It is there that God places the man in a position of leadership and accountability and this placement is affirmed in the New Testament in Ephesians 5:23.

In the end, we are all called to serve others and to serve God.  Whether or not a title is attached to that service is not nearly as important as whether we render that service with joy and humility.

Gluttony and Romans 14

Burning Question:  Why is it that churches tend to overlook gluttony?  With the obesity epidemic going on in this country and the challenges that believers and nonbelievers face regarding this issue, should we (believers) address this issue during our fellowship times and the grand feasts that accompany them?

Sometimes finding balance can be a challenging thing.  The tension in dealing with the gluttony issue is that it involves the overuse of something (food) which is a daily necessity in our lives.  This sets it up as a challenging issue in a very unique way.  Overuse of cigarettes carries no challenge . . . cigarettes will kill you via lung cancer or any other variety of ways, so the amount of use is not up for debate.  Wisdom dictates that they be avoided.  Overuse of alcohol leads to drunkenness and a wide variety of dangers to the drinker and any who cross their path.  Alcohol is not a daily necessity and if it is, there are bigger issues to be addressed!  But the challenge with gluttony is that the one who struggles with it can never remove themselves from the temptation . . . a person has to eat to live.  Herein lies the tension.  So how does a church address the issue of gluttony and where is the balance between offering fulfillment to one’s need (food) even in the context of fellowship, yet not causing a person who struggles to be unduly tempted?

Romans 14:13-23 would seem to speak into the situation when it states that we are not to cause a brother (fellow believer) to stumble and be tempted for the sake of something we do not find offensive.  The context here is not specifically a reference to food in general but to food that had been offered to idols which, in a first century context, carried the notion that one was partaking in idol worship by eating the leftovers of what had been offered to the false gods.  There was a lot of baggage associated with eating this food.  Paul says that there is nothing inherently wrong with eating that food because false idols are not even gods at all.  However, if eating the food caused issues for a weaker believer, then just abstain out of love for the weaker brother in Christ.  Harming a man’s walk with God is not worth the 120 seconds of tasty goodness that would come from eating some leftover food from a pagan worship service!

For us today, this context is not so much the point.  I haven’t noticed any daily specials on leftover idol-meat in the butcher department at Publix.  So how do we balance showing love for one who may struggle with gluttony while providing a daily necessity (food) in a way that facilitates fellowship?  After all, there is something incredibly bonding about sharing a meal with others and you even see this in the New Testament (think Lord’s Supper here!)  Even more, at what point is the “struggler” responsible to manage their decisions and how far does a church go to be mindful of their need?  Does a church disallow women in attendance because of the presence of men who struggle with lust?  Does a church refrain from passing an offering plate because of the presence of redeemed thieves who once stole before they met Jesus?  You may think, “Ok Brooks, you’re getting sarcastic now!” but really, I am just painting a picture of the tension that surrounds this.

So what are some options?   Here are a few to consider . . . we can call it “food for thought” (pun intended):

1.  Consider the inclusion of certain healthy food choices for those who desire to fellowship around the table but want to be conscious of their food choices.  At FBCI, we often have fruit, yogurt, bottled water, and other options available during this time between our two morning worship services;

2.  Provide the fellowship in a setting where it is not mandatory that one attend.  At FBCI, this location is in our fellowship hall and falls between our two morning worship services.  It is in an “out-of-the-way” location and certainly does not require that one attend between the services;

3.  Be mindful that food is not a necessity for fellowship.  Regardless of popular belief, “food, fun, and fellowship” should not be the mission statement of the local church!  We can enjoy one another without food or drinks and should keep this in mind when planning events.

Gluttony is an often-overlooked challenge for some and our culture reflects that.  Perhaps we can keep in mind the teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:26-27.  Even though we are each individuals, we are also all “one” in the body of Christ.  Sometimes loving our brother means we adjust some things for the sake of others, not just in the area of food but in other areas, as well.

Why Sundays and Wednesdays?

Burning Question:  I know why we “go” to church on Sundays (not Saturdays) because of the New Testament, but why Sunday nights and Wednesday nights?  When did that historically come into play?  Is it just a Baptist thing?  And why Sunday School groups?

From a biblical perspective, our “normal” church service schedules and formats aren’t addressed.  Of course, there are principles in Scripture that guide our services and formats (John 4:24, 2 Timothy 4:1-5, and others).  It appears that the Lord’s Day (Sunday) replaced the Sabbath (Saturday) as the more formal day of worship in the New Testament, but there is also evidence of the early believers meeting for worship and teaching every day during the week (Acts 2:46).

Regarding the practice of meeting on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights today, the reasons would be more practical than specifically biblical.  These additional meeting times offer additional opportunity for believers to engage together in worship, teaching, and prayer.  Rather than waiting an entire week to meet again, Wednesday evenings offer a mid-week “boost” for believers and also provide unique opportunities for ministry that are sometimes not easily accomplished on a Sunday.

I wouldn’t say that gathering together on Sunday evenings and Wednesday evenings is necessarily a Baptist distinctive because other denominations also follow this practice.  However, not all Baptist churches even follow this pattern.  Here at FBCI, we changed our practice of having Sunday evening services a number of years back to replace it with a small-group discipleship ministry called DIVE.

What does seem to be the norm, and gladly so, is some form of small-group discipleship within the church so that believers can be discipled in their faith.  It has been said that life-change in a person’s life happens most effectively in the context of small groups, and I completely agree.  It’s one of the four primary things that we focus on in our church and falls under the category of GROW in our KNOW, GROW, SHOW, GO summary of our mission here.

So whether it’s called Sunday School, Life Group, Small Group, Spiritual Formation Group, or any other catchy name, believers need to be together in a life-on-life setting in order to encourage and speak into the lives of one another.  Hebrews 10:23-25 is as good of a passage as you will find to drive this point home clearly!  But while we are growing together in our groups, we must be certain that we do not become so focused on ourselves and our own growth that we fail to reach outside the walls to serve others and take the Gospel to those without Christ!  As is so often the case, balance is the key!

Dump The Doctrine?

Burning Question:  Why do some churches get so wrapped up in “doctrine” issues, such as women in church, drinking alcohol, food restrictions, etc.?  It seems to create unnecessary division when we should be united as believers in Christ, not personal application.

Historically, believers and churches can easily become sidetracked and lose sight of those things that are of greatest importance.  We sometimes major on the minors and minor on the majors, if you know what I mean.

If we replace the word “doctrine” with the word “truth”, the above question is a bit easier to handle.  The reason for this is because God’s Word is our source of truth and, therefore, determines the doctrines that should govern our daily lives.  Churches should be “wrapped up” in truth . . . proclaiming truth, living by the truth, encouraging others to live by truth, contending for the truth, holding fast to the truth.  Well, you get the idea!

Where things get a bit difficult is when God’s truth allows for some variance as to how that truth is lived out.  When we hold fast to a specific application of God’s truth that Scripture doesn’t necessarily hold to, then we can easily cross the line into legalism.  As an example, you may hold to the conviction that playing cards is a sin based on your understanding of a specific Scripture, let’s say Ephesians 5:11.  For you, your conviction would be based on “doctrine” or “truth”.  However, I would not share your conviction as I see no issue with merely playing cards for fun and my application of that passage would be different.  For you to expect me to apply that verse to my life in the same way that you apply it, when the verse obviously allows for flexibility in its application, would be legalistic.

There are certain dangers and cautions for churches regarding “doctrine” or truth.  First, we must be willing to stand on truth whenever it is conveyed in Scripture.  Second, where Scripture allows a variety of applications for that truth, we must not hold others to our personal application alone, lest we become legalistic.  Third, we must guard against serving the “rules” above serving the Lord.  God’s truth is conveyed against the backdrop of our relationship with Him.  Abiding in His truth enables us to enjoy deep fellowship with Him.  Remember, Jesus describes Himself as Truth in John 14:6. Last, we must never sacrifice truth for the sake of unity.  Many churches in our day have amazing unity but no message, no effectiveness, and no life because they have watered down or replaced the truth of God’s Word that exists to give us life.

Paul encouraged Timothy to teach sound doctrine and warned Timothy against false doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6, 1 Timothy 6:3-5).  In his second letter to Timothy, Paul gives one of the best admonitions to proclaim truth while also laying out one of the best warnings of what happens when we don’t (2 Timothy 4:2-4).  We as believers and churches will be all the better for understanding when Scripture allows for a variety of applications and when we must stand on truth regardless of the cost.

Sunday Night Services

Burning Question:  I miss the Sunday night service.  Could we have one sometimes when DIVE is not in session?  Or maybe do both DIVE and a service?

Almost 7 years ago, we shifted gears regarding our Sunday night schedule.  Service attendance was flailing and we were unable to attract any of the young families because there was nothing available for children.  So we shifted gears and implemented something called DIVE.  DIVE is a small group format which offers discipleship classes for all ages.  The rotation of classes changes each quarter (except during Summer).  We found an immediate increase in attendance but, more importantly, people were being engaged in Bible Study according to their personal needs and choices.

Churches constantly have to evaluate whether their ministries and events are being done for the sake of tradition or effectiveness.  You may find this post to be an interesting read when it comes to churches and Sunday evening services.  Sometimes, we have to “sacrifice a sacred cow” in order to be more effective in overall ministry.  The day will come when DIVE has outlived its effect or God leads in a different direction for our church.  The question will always be:  “Are we willing to follow God’s lead, even in the face of change, in order to be who He has created us (as individuals and churches) to be?”