The glorious Bride of Christ...
[NOTE FROM TIM: This article was posted on Baylyblog back in 2009. Church of the Good Shepherd is now Clearnote Church, Bloomington.]
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (Acts 20:28)
He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother. (Cyprian, martyred 258 AD; Calvin says the same in his Institutes)
(Tim) A couple years ago, I spoke at a Youth for Christ conference. There were around five hundred youth workers in attendance from a number of eastern African countries including Burundi, Malawi, Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda.
The conference's main events were led by a man's man. Sitting in the plenary sessions, it was clear he had the admiration and commitment of every man and woman there. They'd follow his God, go where he asked, and imitate him as he followed Christ. It was dynamic, missional, unpretentious, hardworking, and joyful.
Then there was the small group of pastors who watched from the wings. Next to the dynamism of the conference host, this group looked cowed. The host oozed manly leadership while these men oozed diffidence and timidity. As I watched, I noted how perfectly contrasted the church and the parachurch were there that week...
The parachurch leader had a bunch of white Americans working under his direction, donating materials and building his school outside as the conference met inside. He was musclebound and wore casual shirts that put the goods on display. He carried his authority loosely as a man with no fears. The pastors, on the other hand, were thin, dressed to the nines, and seemingly out of touch with the younger men and women in attendance.
After speaking to the young people, I had the privilege of speaking to the pastors, also. Of the hundreds of Christian workers at the conference, about fifteen were pastors. We sat outside the main conference hall in a semi-circle in the glaring sun while the dynamic events going on in the main conference hall could be heard a short distance away. After the meet-and-greet and some preliminaries, I asked the men (yes, thankfully, they were all men) what the church had that Youth for Christ didn't? Naming our host, I sharpened the point asking if there was anything they could contribute as pastors to the life of believers in their towns and countries that he couldn't?
Silence. A couple jokes softly spoken to cut the tension, then again, silence.
I didn't let them off the hook. "What do you have, as a pastor of a church, that he doesn't have?" I asked.
More long silence.
Then one man across the circle timidly asked, "The Sacraments?" and we were off and running.
This is the great failure of evangelicalism this past century. We've had no doctrine of the Church.
So, quite naturally, risk-taking men have abandoned her for the supreme status of the Academy and the relative freedom to take initiative and lead with authority characteristic of parachurch organizations. Only men lacking the requisite skills and entrepreneurial drive for these venues are relegated to the church and the pastorate. It was true of my Dad, my father-in-law, and fifty percent of the graduates from the seminary David, our brother, Nathan, and I attended--Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary: the best men were siphoned off for the Academy and parachurch leadership.
Coincidentally, it was nice that they could dispense with many of the nasties of the pastorate with the disclaimer, "We're not the church." Say it and you've dispensed with membership, discipline, death, and burials--and wonderfully, any Biblical prohibitions against woman teaching or exercising authority over man.
"We're not the Church."
But of course, it was the church with the Sacraments and birth and death and burial and the proclamation of the Gospel in that organic context that Christ our Lord died for, founded, and loves. The Church alone is the Bride of Christ and was given the Apostles as well as pastors, elders, and deacons--church officers. Parachurch organizations have no officers--just corporate titles and structures with no membership and no need to discipline that membership.
It was the Church Christ gave the power of the keys to; the Church that is commanded to bind and loose, to forgive and retain.
So, what's happening now?
We've sown the wind and are reaping the whirlwind. The church has been taken over by the parachurch, and now, Sunday morning, too, is a Crew (Campus Crusade) meeting with no right administration of the Sacraments, no right preaching of the Word of God, and certainly no Biblical administration of discipline.
Instead, dynamic entrepreneurial macho men wow the audience as smoke covers the stage and Seattle's Best is sold in the narthex to latecomers. There's no need to justify the absence of discipline, membership, or the Sacraments because no one's ever heard of them, anyhow.
What's my evidence?
As I said in an earlier post, Dad and Mud gave the best years of their lives to Inter-Varsity. Their first assignment was to be the first and only staff in New England. Later, Dad edited IV's His magazine, was IVP's publisher, served as Eastern regional staff supervisor, and for twenty-some years sat on IV's board. Dad Taylor also served on the staff of IV and edited His for a time before becoming Editorial Director of Moody Press, then founding Tyndale House Publishers. Both Dad Bayly and Dad Taylor were close to many of the leaders of evangelical publishing houses, colleges, seminaries, campus organizations, and missions.
More personally though, when I moved to Bloomington, the church I served had almost all the Campus Crusade, Inter-Varsity, and other campus parachurch group leaders in the congregation. In fact, several of them served as elders. And in that congregation, there was no right administration of the Sacraments, no church discipline, and much opposition to Biblical preaching of the Word of God. Typical of the degree to which the parachurch had corrupted the church, the elders didn't preside over the membership list. Rather, the harried church secretary added and culled names as she alone saw fit. "Hmmm, haven't seen John and Jane Doe for a while, now, have I? I'll take them off the list." And bingo, they were gone.
No pastor or elder went out searching for the lost sheep; it was strictly a matter of individual options and choices. Baptisms were done over and over again, for a spiritual rush or to memorialize an act of re-commitment to Christ with no questions asked. And of course, the Lord's Table absolutely wasn't fenced, Biblically. Many souls took the Lord's Supper who had never been baptized and many souls who were baptized did not join the church. Rather, each man did that which was right in his own eyes.
And now, when Church of the Good Shepherd places a man under discipline, placing him under definite suspension from the Lord's Table, other churches in the community claiming the evangelical heritage welcome that man into their fellowship, allowing him to eat and drink with them, no questions asked, thereby subverting the discipline Christ commanded. What is bound on earth and Heaven is not bound within other Protestant congregations. After all, they've never heard of such a thing.
It's time to return to the Bride of Christ, the Household of Faith, the Pillar and Foundation of the Truth, the Church of the Living God. And this will require those who fear God and honor His Word to deny the name "Church" to all 501c3 organizations either lacking or in principle opposed to the right preaching of the Word of God, the right administration of the Sacraments, and the right exercise of church discipline.
And by the way, if you're committed to restoring the Church to the believer's mandate and mission, don't make the all-too-common mistake of thinking denominations are the Church. Usually they aren't. Rather, they are trademark protection agencies seeking to use their trademark to advance their association, institutionally. There may be many churches within them; and also some presbyteries that still function in a way analogous to the Council of Jerusalem found in Acts 15. But a true church is a congregation of souls who have repented and fled to Jesus Christ, who are devoted to the teaching of the Apostles, the breaking of bread, fellowship, and prayer. True churches have the right preaching of the Word of God, the right administration of the Sacraments, and the right exercise of church discipline.
Few churches, and even fewer denominations, qualify.