Today is not about Halloween. Today, it’s all about the Reformation!
On this day in 1517 a German monk named Martin challenged church leaders over how to deal with sin when he nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church. (You can’t buy forgiveness!)
I thank God for Martin Luther and the other Reformers and their courage to challenge the church back to the Word as its authority.
Sola scriptura (by Scripture alone)
Sola fide (by Faith alone)
Sola gratia (by Grace alone)
Solo Christos (by Christ alone)
Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone)
May we be so bold.
(For more info on the significance of today, click here.)
Too often we measure ministries by “nickels and noses” or “buildings, budgets, and butts”. If you’re around a group of pastors of different churches, the topic of church size quickly comes up, one will brag about his church’s latest building program, another brags about his latest offering, and still another about how many new members have recently joined the church. And if you ask how many people attended last Sunday Morning’s church service, you will hear a “ministerialy-speaking” number that more often than not, is inflated.
Speaking of inflated numbers…. the first church I pastored had nearly 300 members! But I don’t know that even on the “high attendance” Sundays of Christmas and Easter we ever had more than 50 people in the sanctuary. As we dug into the names, we found that we only recognized about 60. Sixty of 300 names!
You rarely hear of churches cleaning up their rolls, mainly because reporting the numbers accurately makes it look like the church has had a drastic drop in membership. And smaller memberships mean fewer people can go to denominational meetings and vote on behalf of your church. But, honestly, how many people go to those denominational meetings anymore anyway?
Wanting to account for the actual number of sheep in our fold, we began removing the names of people we didn’t know, or that we knew had died. So what happened to so many people on the membership roll? I suspect that many moved away, joined another church, or simply dropped out. Perhaps many were children who prayed a prayer during a Vacation Bible School over the course of 30+ years, and their names were added to the membership and they were never heard from again. (and did we ever follow up with them?)
I have heard of church business meetings where a number of people showed up for the first time in years in order to vote out a pastor (maybe some people didn’t like the way he parted his hair) or to change the direction a pastor was trying to lead the church (perhaps to be less “religious” and to be more like Jesus). Phone calls were made and accusations were leveled, with the result of the poor church clerk having to pour through the membership roster to make sure that everyone in the meeting was entitled to vote, based on their “membership” in the church. I must confess that this is one of the reasons I wanted to clean up the membership rolls; I didn’t want the church to be sabotaged by people who had no vested interest in the normal operations of the church. If there were people who wanted to maintain membership so they could have a “church marriage” or a “church funeral”, I was prepared to conduct their services, but I felt that those “members” had “broken covenant” by choosing to no longer attend and support the church with their time, talent, and their treasures.
So what is church membership?
Even after paring down the list of names to those 60 that we knew, we still had some names on the list because they were family members of charter church members, for whatever reason afraid of removing their grandchild or cousin from the roll. Were they afraid they wouldn’t come back to church? Hadn’t the grandchild or cousin already made that decision?
OK, I’ll step off my soapbox after saying that we need to seriously consider what “church membership” means. By “we”, I mean churches, staff, as well as everyone who calls themselves a “church member”. Wouldn’t it be better to call everyone either a church member or church attender based on their investment of time, talent, and yes… treasures?
I came across a really good post this morning that addresses this question of how to best measure one’s ministry. From a pastor’s perspective, I believe we should change our criteria.
Happy Atheists Day for those who deny (or question) God’s existence (Ps 14:1).
In all fairness, I believe Ps 14:1 could also be translated, “The fool says, “No, God.”
Look at the way we live. Do we live, read our Bibles and pray as if God continues to be active in the world around us? (Theism)
Or are we more like Deists who live, read our Bibles, and pray as if God started it all, accomplished partial salvation for us in Jesus so that it’s now up to is to keep things moving along until we die and go to heaven?
It’s not just those who question/deny God’s existence who are missing out on all that God has provided for us in Jesus.
Think about it and ask God if you live as an Atheist/Agnostic or as Deist (practically, there’s not much difference)… or as a Theist.
Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you today through the Inspired Word to bring instruction, correction, rebuke, and training in righteousness.
The Triune God will tell you if you will only ask. So, how about it? Where do you stand today?
Tim Challies makes an interesting point regarding the Son of God movie that releases this Friday: the movie will present the crucifixion without the cross.
What’s the difference? The crucifixion is the barbaric torture used by the Romans to execute someone in a slow manner where the person drowns to death over the course of hours. (You may remember at the end of the Gospels’ account, soldiers broke the legs of the other two men hanging with Jesus in order to hasten their death before the Sabbath Passover began; they didn’t break Jesus’ legs because he had already died.)
What cannot be presented in a movie or on a TV screen — and which *must* be presented in words — is the glorious, unfair exchange of Jesus’ righteousness with our sin … on the cross.
In your conversations with both saved and lost friends and family members, please remember to point out this fact. Many men were crucified, but only one Man went to the cross and made the exchange a possibility and a reality.
Think about it. How many hymns and praise choruses even mention the crucifixion? And how many hymns and choruses concentrate on what happened on the cross?
What happened on the cross was so much more than a crucifixion.