Healthy Church Community Activities: Awareness & Gospel Proclamation
May 8, 2015 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Perseverance is a Community Project: Part 3
This is the last of a three part series reflecting on the nature of God’s grace in perseverance and the church community’s responsibility for her members’ perseverance. Our Confession of Faith states that “perseverance of the saints depends not upon their free will, but upon” God himself (WCF 17.2). Yet, God’s sovereign grace in our perseverance does not abdicate our responsibility to persevere and help one another persevere. The following paragraph in the WCF states that “through…the neglect of the means of their preservation, [the saints] may fall into grievous sins.”
Other than a regular diet of the Word and Sacrament, what are the “means of their preservation”?
The Confession and its accompanying Catechisms do not specify. In this three part treatise I am making the case that the church community (more specifically, the membership of the local church) is one of the necessary means that God uses to preserve the saints, thereby giving the local church the responsibility to strive for the perseverance of her saints.
We have been focusing our study on the teaching of Hebrews 3:12-14:
Take care, brothers and sisters, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. (ESV)
There are three principles from this passage that support the idea that the church community is a necessary means of the perseverance of the saints. The first is God’s grace of perseverance is the ground for church community. Because God is faithful to preserve his saints, the saints are charged to look out for one another. God does his preserving work through the means of the church community. The second is the hardening of the heart is the potential consequence for the lack of church community. If we do not obey the commands of this passage regarding active church community life, we are at risk of a hardened heart. There are responsibilities for both the community and the individual.
Let’s finish our observations from Hebrews 3:12-14
3. The primary activities for a healthy church community, which is committed to being a means of the preservation of her saints, are awareness and gospel proclamation.
Now to the two commands of our passage: “take care” and “exhort one another.” With the warning about the deceitfulness of sin leading to an evil, unbelieving heart, the writer calls the church to be vigilant in looking out for each other. The Greek word for “take care” is the simple word for “see” or “look.” What the saints ought to be looking for is implicit in the warnings: sinful habits that lead a heart away from enjoying God; thought patterns which deviate from the truth. The church is to be a community of saints who know each other well and are aware of potentially harmful thoughts or habits in the lives of one another.
The second command, “exhort one another every day” seems to have no direction for the exhortation (the Greek word, parakaleo, can have a broad range of meaning from encourage to preach to exhort to confront). Thankfully, the writer narrows the understanding with the following phrase, “as long as it is called ‘today’.” In the context of Hebrews 3, the writer has been comparing Jesus to Moses, reflecting on the hardness of heart of the Israelites in the wilderness. He uses Psalm 95 as a repeated text. The word ‘today’ comes from that Psalm. Psalm 95 is a call to worship of the Lord. The psalmist says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah…” (95:7-8). The exhortation of Psalm 95 is to worship and enjoy and trust in the Lord. This would be the same exhortation for Hebrews 3:13.
This type of exhortation is gospel proclamation: extolling the goodness of God in the saving work of Jesus Christ in order to sustain and increase faith. This is not a mere “pat on the back” and a listening ear of a friend. And the fact that this command is for “every day” means that it is more than weekly gospel preaching from the pulpit. The saints need to be equipped to speak gospel truth to one another in regular conversations. Nothing blows the lies of sin out of the water like the astonishing truth of the grace of Jesus Christ.
I have been making the case that the church’s community life is one of the necessary means that God uses to preserve his saints. While we have focused solely on Hebrews 3:12-14, I believe this truth can be demonstrated from other passages as well. As I conclude I want to highlight three implications of this teaching for our church (let me say up front, I acknowledge that these could and should be developed more thoroughly; I am just teasing out some initial thoughts):
1. The church is to be a community where we know and are known. I touched on this last week. There is no “lone-ranger” Christian. God has not designed your faith to be independent of the church.
2. We are responsible to actively “preach” the gospel to one another on a regular basis. Learn the gospel. Learn to see the gospel in all of Scripture. Think through every situation each day with “gospel-lenses.” Do not leave a meeting with a brother or sister from the church without speaking gospel truth. Let’s help one another deepen our satisfaction in Christ.
3. Submitting to the church and her leaders (i.e. membership) is a means that God uses to preserve your faith. This includes church discipline. Discipline sounds bad, like the hammer dropping. Church discipline, however, is just a formal process of obeying Hebrews 3:12-14. Attempting to avoid the “authority” of the church may leave your soul and heart at dangerous risk.