Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Response to "Expansion versus Continuity" at Rotundus.com

Over at www.rotundus.com, David is doing a great job asking great questions about the Church's faithfulness in worship and practice. A recent post sought to understand the PCA and CanRC's understanding and practice regarding evangelism and discipleship.

His question deserves an answer and deserves our efforts to be redoubled in being committed to evangelism and discipleship:

I wonder if the PCA as a denomination overemphasizes external evangelism at the cost of discipling the members of the church.

I was discussing this with a church member friend after dinner last night. Do we preach and work for the sake of the saints who then go and do the work of ministry (Eph. 4.11) or do we preach and teach to the masses seeking to attract them with services, programs, gimmicks, etc?

The CanRC and PCA have shunned gimmicks, trusting in the "ordinary means of grace." In both traditions there have probably been the unfortunate cases where the church becomes an enclave where theological faithfulness has been pursued at the expense of faithfulness to seek the lost that Christ came to seek and to save.

In the painfully practical department, I struggled this morning to find, from Scripture, the proper balance of being a shepherd and doing the work of an evangelist. The average Pastor is paid to feed sheep, keep them happy, keep them on the straight and narrow, etc. When does he have time to pursue "the sheep that aren't yet in the fold?" The shepherd wants to encourage the compliant and busy sheep. He wants to restore the wayward and derelict sheep. But there are sheep yet to be brought in.

Paul tells Timothy "As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. " (2 Tim. 4.5)

  • Keep a clear head and a clear focus - - this is Christ's church, you are a sheep, you are an undershepherd.
  • Endure suffering - - get close enough to the world to feel the sting of death that is sin, get close enough to the sheep where you get bit and get their stuff on you.
  • Do the work of an evangelist - - As Christ's servant and kerux herald of good news, there are many that are foreknown and foreloved by him that have yet to be brought in. I am certainly passionate about the lost. I am meeting increasing numbers of them. The question remains "How"? In many churches there is resentment when time allotted to sheep is taken up with those outside the fold. The impression or overt expectation is "YOU exist for US".
In recent thinking, sometimes under the name "Missional Church", the church is seen as the firstfruits of God's cosmic redemption. The church then exists for the sake of the harvest which is a world outside of Christ. It no longer exists for itself since it by grace through faith participates in God's future (HT: NT Wright).

Many churches are basking in this grace and a huge collective sigh "Ahh, we're safe" is the theme of their fellowship. Guarding our safety or parsing the vocabulary of salvation seems to be a perfectly godly pasttime. Yet if we are the Gospel-formed community of Christ, we are saved unto something, a ministry of reconciliation.

The PCA is often described as a grassroots movement committed to theological precision (as affirmed in our very thorough Confession) but committed to mission and every member mobilization which is the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer with legs put to it.

Discipleship then in this scheme is training God's people in the application of God's truth for God's glory so that we are faithful servants and messengers of the Gospel touching people around us with Gospel words and deeds. Discipleship is for the end of God's glory as much as evangelism is. The struggle then is in what order and by what means.

Some view Sunday worship, and specifically preaching, as discipleship. Catechetical preaching would be a prime example, although being neither a practitioner nor observer I'm only passing on what I've heard. In my dispensational upbringing, faithful preaching was greek scribbled on an overhead projector - - "That brother gave us the WORD" and we took 8 pages of notes. More liturgical movements point to the sacraments as enacted theology, shaped by water and bread and word. The shape of discipleship is that faith practiced by the church since the Apostles and beyond.

Some would view Sunday worship as evangelism. These churches would emphasize the altar call, or in more hip versions, would seek to be seeker sensitive having the band play a number by Creed or that immortal ode to the Incarnation (?) by Joan Osborne "What if God Was One of Us? The goal is to get them to come in through attraction evangelism so we can throw down some subtle proclamation evangelism and hopefully get them into a small group of some sort for discipleship.

So if a Gospel minister is to be a shepherd evangelist how can a church be flock oriented and gospel outreaching at the same time? Aye, that's the rub laddie!

My hunch is that if discipleship is our strength, well it's time to mobilize for outreach. Some discipleship programs are merely for depth or for information. Discipleship should be about becoming a Christ follower who knows God, loves God, seeks those whom God is seeking, and is applying his truth and grace to all of life.

If evangelism is our strength, we must help those converts put down roots and those with roots put out feelers in outreach. In this way, (to change metaphors) evangelism and discipleship are like the two strokes of a cylinder that drive us forward in faithfulness to Christ.

David, thanks for the question. Please help me fill out the answer in the comments!

4 comments:

pilgrim said...

It is a hard balance to maintain to not veer to one side or the other--and I believe that is part of why God gifts His people differently.

Some are better at encouraging the brethern (includes sisters)
Some excel at teaching believers
Some are better at going out into the World & sharing the gospel
Some modle the gospel claerly in their lives and share it without being obnoxious.

And so on.

We nned to stop fixing on one model and relaize God created us as individuals and gifetd dieefernt parts of the body differently--then work from there so the lost are reached and the sheep are fed and nurtured.

Good post.

Rotundus.com said...

Thanks for the response Shawn!

At the moment I'm filled with more questions than answers, so I don't think that I have too much to add to your commentary.

I agree with you that discipleship is a lot more than just cramming in more and more information, and showing up at all the appointed hours. The former come relatively naturally to me, but when it comes to other areas of living out the faith the opposite often seems to be true. This struggle for balance is no only one that exists on a denominational level, but also at the level of my life.

I appreciate pilgim's talk of the encouragement of other believers, and I don't think that I've quite got this practice nailed down. I have a tendency to point out other's flaws lately, but I'm not sure that I've always done so in an appropriate manner. Am I encouraging or just criticizing? Do I acknowledge my own weaknesses or just those of others?

RevGoT said...

David,

I think your questions about yourself are humble and full of hope! Scripture calls us to admonish each other and spur one another to love and good deeds. If we don't allow others to spur us we can become theological sadists - - inflicting conviction and demands for accuracy on others. That might be one plus of the Christian blogging community - - the spurs go both ways, sometimes to the point of chewing up the body of Christ. Thanks for being willing to receive the spurs! See you soon - - bring the spurs!

Rotundus.com said...
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