THE NATURE AND END OF EXCOMMUNICATION – Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan_Edwards_engravingThe Nature and End of Excommunication is a timely and practical sermon.  For many churches in our generation simply refuse to exercise church discipline on the unrepentant.  This act of passivity is not only cause for grave concern; it is a violation of Scripture.

Edwards utilizes 1 Cor. 5:11 as his text:

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” (1 Cor. 5:11, ESV)

DoctrineThose members of the visible Christian church who are visibly wicked, ought not be tolerate in the church, but should be excommunicated.

Edwards explains and articulates three main headings which support the doctrine.

1. The Nature of Excommunication

Edwards wastes no time explaining the essence of excommunication: “It is a punishment executed in the name and according to the will of Christ, whereby a person who hath heretofore enjoyed the privileges of a member of the visible church of Christ, is cast out of the church and delivered unto Satan” (c.f. 2 Cor. 2:6).

Ultimately, church discipline is meant for the good of the person in question and seeks their repentance and restoration to the body of Christ.  Edwards, adds, “Excommunication itself is to be performed as an act of benevolence.  We should seek their good by it; and it is to be used as a means of their eternal salvation.”

2. The Proper Subjects of Excommunication

Those who walk through the process of excommunication are the “visibly wicked.”  Two things mark such a person:

  • By gross sin 
  • By remaining impenitent in their sin

3. The End of Excommunication

Three specific ends are delineated by Edwards:

  • That the church may be kept pure, and the ordinances of God not be defiled.
  • That others may be deterred from wickedness.
  • That the persons themselves may be reclaimed, and that their souls may be saved.

Application

5 points of application are set forth by the preacher from Northampton:

  1. That you tolerate visible wickedness in your members, you will greatly dishonor God, and our Lord Jesus Christ, the religion which you profess, the church in general, and yourselves in particular.
  2. Your own good loudly calls you to the same thing.  From what hath been already said, you see how liable you, as individuals, will be to catch the contagion, which is easily communicated by reason of the natural depravity, in a degree at least, remaining in the best of men.
  3. The good of those who are without should be another motive.
  4. Benevolence towards your offending brethren themselves, calls upon you to maintain discipline in all its parts.
  5. But the absolute authority of Christ ought to be sufficient in this case, if there were no other motive.

These powerful reminders should beckon every church to seriously consider the high calling of operating in a God-glorifying way.  Edwards wonders out loud, “Now, how can you be the true disciples of Christ, if you live in the neglect of these plain positive commands?”  He concludes, “If you strictly follow the rules of discipline instituted by Christ, you have reason to hope for his blessing; for he is wont to bless his own institutions, and to smile upon the means of grace which he hath appointed.”

In this short sermon, Edwards demonstrated the necessity of carrying out church discipline on unrepentant church members.  How very far are so many churches from this biblical model?  How long will it take to come in alignment with the teaching of Scripture?

THE PASTOR AS PUBLIC THEOLOGIAN – Kevin VanHoozer and Owen Strachan (2015)

pastorAfter serving in pastoral ministry for nearly twenty-five years, I can testify that the most discouraging moments occurred when the people of God failed to look favorably on theology.  R.C. Sproul rightly laments, “We live in the most anti-intellectual period in all of church history.”  Frankly, many pastors have the battle scars to prove it.  I know I do.

Kevin VanHoozer and Owen Strachan serve up a timely antidote to this troubling, anti-theology age we find ourselves in.  The Pastor as Public Theologian presents a fresh vision; a vision for “reclaiming the vocation of the pastor-theologian.”  But the authors have a larger vision that unfolds throughout the book.  Their vision extends to local congregations.  They too need to reclaim the vision and vocation of the pastor theologian.

Part one explores biblical theology and historical theology.  Part two explores systematic theology and practical theology.  Each chapter is drenched in biblical wisdom with an eye on kingdom priorities.

This book stands in the same stream as David Well’s excellent works, No Place For Truth, God in the Wasteland, and The Courage to Be Protestant – to name a few.  The great strengths lie not only in setting forth a description of the problems in the church but in the prescription for moving forward.  Such a move entails  pastors who are theologically motivated and theologically driven.  These pastors offer up theologically rich sermons which equip, edify, and send the people of God to the nations.

The Pastor as Public Theologian is a sweeping book.  It is, in many ways an epic accomplishment. Indeed, VanHoozer and Strachan achieve their goal in setting forth the biblical case for recovering the biblical portrait of the pastor-theologian.

The Pastor as Public Theologian is a profoundly encouraging book.  Pastors who are serious about their call should read and devour this excellent material.  Some pastors will find themselves repenting for embracing a secularized model of the pastorate.  Others will be re-energized to boldly proclaim the truth for God’s glory and the good of God’s people

Highly recommended!

4.5 stars

STORM – Jim Cymbala (2014)

Jim Cymbala has a warning for the church.  The warning is an urgent plea.  The stormwarning is for every Christian.  Cymbala is afraid that the influence of the church is on the decline in America.  Biblical competency is at an all-time low.  Pastors are leaving the ministry.  Young people are jettisoning the Christian faith.  Trinkets are peddled but theology is minimized.  Pragmatism is celebrated but prayer is downplayed.  These are themes that the author develops in his latest work, Storm: Hearing Jesus For the Times We Live In.

Cymbala offers a prescription for these perilous times.  His solution is a return to prayer and a reliance on the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  The author writes with certain degree of boldness which may offend some.  Certainly, church growth proponents will be repelled by Storm.  But the essential message stands – “Everyone knows that a church must have a strong pulpit and strong preaching … But all this is utterly impossible without the enablement of the Holy Spirit.”

Storm is filled with stories of God’s grace and practical help for struggling pastors who serve in struggling churches.

I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  I was not required to write a positive review. 

CENTER CHURCH – Tim Keller (2012)

kellerI have been reading books about the church for almost thirty years now.  Most of the best material is being churned out by Mark Dever and the boys at 9Marks.  Tim Keller’s, Center Church is a welcome guest in the growing list of books on ecclesiology.

Keller sets out to communicate one central message which is summed up in the subtitle: Doing Balanced Gospel-Centered Ministry in the City.  Center Church is encyclopedic in nature.  It covers every subject conceivable and is a helpful tool in every pastors prospective tool chest.

The discussion about gospel contextualization (chapter 7) is deeply encouraging and highly instructive.  The author notes, “Contextualization is not – as is often argued – ‘giving people what they want to hear.’  Rather, it is giving people the Bible’s answers, which they may not at all want to hear, to questions about life that people in their particular time and place are asking, in language and forms they can comprehend, and through appeals and arguments with force they can feel, even if they reject them..”

Keller warns against the temptation to use contextualization as a clever means of compromise (which I find many pastors doing).  He adds, “The call to contextualize the gospel has been – and still often is – used as a cover for religious syncretism.  This means not adapting the gospel to a particular culture, but rather surrendering the gospel entirely and morphing Christianity into a different religion by over-adapting it to an alien worldview.”

Center Church is filled with helpful instruction on doing gospel ministry in the city.  It is a long read but worth plodding through for the treasures along the way.

Highly recommended for pastors who love the gospel!

I AM A CHURCH MEMBER – Thom S. Rainer (2013)

I remember reading a book in Seminary entitled, The Death of the Church.  Frankly, any notion of the final demise of the church runs counter to the promise 1433679736_lmade by our Lord in Matthew 16:18 namely – the gates of hell shall not prevail.”  And while the church is, in the final analysis, an indestructible organism, it does appear to be waning in America, especially among the so-called Millennial generation.  Thom S. Rainer offers thoughtful and timely advice for the church in his latest work, I Am a Church Member. 

Rainer’s work gets to the heart of the matter by reminding readers that the notion of church membership is intensely biblical: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27, ESV).  Six commitments undergird this biblical imperative:

1. I Will be a Functioning Church Member

2. I Will Be a Unifying Church Member

3. I Will Not Let My Church Be About My Preferences and Desires

4. I Will Pray for My Church Leaders

5. I Will Lead My Family to Be Healthy Church Members

6. I Will Treasure Church Membership as a Gift

Each commitment is grounded in Scripture and conveyed in gracious and meaningful ways.  The author challenges readers but never comes across in a legalistic or demeaning way.  He hits the biblical balance with great wisdom and skill.

I Am a Church Member is helpful for both parishioners and pastors alike.  It is a solid boost of encouragement to Christ followers in a day that is characterized by apathy and laziness.

4 stars

FOR THE CITY – Darrin Patrick and Matt Carter (2011)

0310330076_bFor the City by Darrin Patrick and Matt Carter is a book for pastors, church planters and Christ-followers who want to make a difference in their respective cities.  The heartbeat of the authors is to instill a passion for proclaiming the gospel faithfully and living the gospel in authentic, transparent, gospel-centered communities.

There is much to commend here but I especially appreciate the fiercely anti-pragmatic approach which is grounded in gospel-centered ministry.  The authors present four approaches to the city.  The first three are popular but do not reflect the burden of the New Testament.

Church IN the City

This first approach reflect churches that are merely in the city, geographically.  While they strive to get people to church to hear the gospel, there is very little interaction with the city itself.  This approach may be well-intentioned but doesn’t go far enough.

Church AGAINST the City

This approach opposes the city and carries an “us vs. them” mentality.  Examples abound here.  Frankly, these churches are an embarrassment to the evangelical world.

Church OF the City

Here is the opposite extreme.  Instead of blatantly opposing the city, the approach caters to the whims of the city and leans heavily on a postmodern ethos and as a result, loses its saltiness and gospel influence.  Some emergent churches live here.  Horrible!

Church FOR the City

The authors hold the final option as the only option for the New Testament church:  In this approach, “the church speaks the truth of the gospel and is not afraid to uphold a biblical worldview and moral standard.  Such a church proclaims the truths of Scripture with passion, clarity, and boldness.  At the same time, though, this is a church that commits itself to seeking the shalom, the flourishing, of the city.  This means seeking the shalom of the people they live in community with, living sacrificially and using their gifts, time, and money to seek the peace and prosperity of their neighbors.”

While the authors never hint at it, this author wonders out loud whether a stringent premillennialism (and I’m premillennial) has negatively influenced churches that would otherwise exist as a church FOR the city.

For the City is filled with practical help, strong admonitions, and bold challenges.  A timely work from two seasoned church planters.

3.5 stars

CHURCH MEMBERSHIP – Jonathan Leeman (2012)

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Jonathan Leeman’s newest installment, Church Membership is his latest contribution to the 9Marks Healthy Church Series.  The author sets out to help readers understand what church membership is – since many appear to be confused or reject the very notion.

Leeman begins by arguing that the church is the highest kingdom authority on earth: “The local church is the authority on earth that Jesus has instituted to officially affirm and give shape to my Christian life and yours.”  So when God’s people gather together, they do so under the kingly authority of Jesus.

Additionally, the author maintains that the church is an embassy :  “A local church is a real-life embassy, set in the present that represents Christ’s future kingdom and his coming universal church.”  Leeman continues, “A church member is a person who has been officially and publicly recognized as a Christian before the nations, as well as someone who shares in the same authority of officially affirming and overseeing other Christians in his or her church.”

And the author presents a principle that really emerges as the theme of the book, namely – “Christians don’t join churches; they submit to them.”  This theme is developed later in the book as Leeman carefully develops the rationale for biblical submission.

Church Membership is a welcome addition to the 9Marks Series.  The arguments are clear and biblical.  The importance of church membership is emphasized in gracious tones that will captivate readers and spur them to action.

3.5 stars