An Easter Pause/Easter Truth​​​ (by Jon Shuler​​​)

Undergirding every principle that can serve as a new building block for the renewing of the life of the Western Church, is the central truth of Easter. Unless the Resurrection is believed and lived there can be no living community of Christian faith. There may be buildings with ever diminishing attendance, but there will be no “turning the world upside down” as happens when the grace of heaven falls in power.

The church of Jesus Christ is not a collection of people who enjoy a certain way of worshipping, nor who share common ethnic backgrounds or human interests. It is a gathering of those who believe that “Jesus Christ is Alive.” He is not dead, though he was crucified, died, and was buried. He was raised on the third day by the power and authority of God Almighty. The tomb was empty. He is alive and changing the world in this very moment. To know him as alive by the power of the Holy Spirit is to participate now in the breaking in of the everlasting kingdom of God. It is to be forever changed.

It was the glorified Christ who met the first disciples in the midst of their confusion and grief. It was the “First Born From the Dead” who spoke with them, and supped with them, and illuminated their understanding, and sent them out to change the world. The sin of the First Adam was undone by the obedience of the Second Adam, and all who would ever believe in him and follow would be drawn into his resurrected life. Even though they die, yet shall they live.

From a handful of disciples on the first Sunday of the Resurrection the number of followers grew day by day. Now they are on every continent and in almost every nation, and encompass over one third of all those alive today. The church may be suffering in some places, but she is growing wonderfully in others. Resurrection life is awakening one dead soul after another, and where she is growing men and women are discovering the central truth of the gospel. Jesus Christ is no longer in the grave, he is Risen. The tomb is empty. The Good News of the gospel has come to them. And that gospel is the Gospel of Truth, not opinion.

When “Jesus Christ and him crucified” is proclaimed, the full story of the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection is preached to all who can hear. It is preached as truth, because it is the Truth. The one who came among us was – and is – “the way, the truth, and the life” by which all creation will be restored. There is no other gospel. There is no other Lord.

Those of us praying for a new dawn for the church in our land live in this truth. Nothing can take it from us. It has come to live in our hearts. It possesses our mind. It owns our being. The Risen Lord Jesus Christ abides in us and with us.

Next Week: An Easter Pause/ Easter Joy

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Expounding the 12 Principles:#5 — The Serving Principle. (by ​Jon Shuler​)

There is no part of the human body that was not created for a purpose. Each limb, each organ, every major system, indeed every cell has a purpose. It is possible to live after the loss of some, but each of the manifold parts was created to be supportive of the whole. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. As it is in the human body, so it is in the church. The constituent living cell is a believer, and every healthy cell in the body has a purpose.

The Apostle Paul writes of the church as the body of Christ, and the Apostle Peter gives us the image of a living temple. Whether we think organically of the body, or more structurally of the temple (though remember it is a “living” temple), each believer has a part to play. None are to be passive, even if hidden, because each is needed for the common good. To serve the Lord means not only to serve among his people, but also to serve his people.

We argued in an earlier post in this series that every believer is to find the work that the Lord has created them to do, that is their unique and particular ministry. As the journey of faith unfolds, this early work, or ministry, often becomes the primary calling of their life. But here we are describing a different element of the healthy church, not vocation. We are describing a willingness to be used, even outside of ones gifting. This serving is the readiness to do whatever needs to be done. This serving posture is for all.

To begin the journey of a Christian is to learn that we are to be stewards of all that God has entrusted to us. Central to this is to begin to exercise the common grace of serving others. We discover that Sunday worship is vital and normal, but we also learn to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God. When we learn to tithe, that is to return a tenth of our financial resources to the Lord, we are serving the body. When we begin to take part in daily intercession for the mission and ministry of the local church, we are serving the body. If we agree to do some simple act of service for a member in need, we are serving the body. In such ways we learn not to hold back from the needs of the church. We offer ourselves to fill a gap. We serve the body of Christ.

And to what end? Why does it matter that all learn the principle of serving? Because the Lord who created us calls us to this. We are part of the family of God, and we share in the common life. We have received so we can give. We have been blessed so we can be a blessing. Our model for this way of life is Jesus Christ our Lord.The one who came down from heaven to save us, gave himself for us. We are servants of the servant Lord. The whole body of Christ is to grow up into the head, into Christ. It cannot do so unless every part is working together for the common good. All are called to be a serving disciples.
Next Week: An Easter Pause/Easter Truth

Expounding the 12 Principles #4:  The Principle of Discipling.  (by ​​Jon Shuler​)

New believers must be formed quickly in the patterns of a healthy and practical way of Christian life, if they are to become life long followers of the Lord Jesus.  They must learn to be disciple-making disciples. Too long a delay, and they will become immature followers for a lifetime, at best, or unfruitful branches at worst. A new believer must hear and obey the call to be a disciple who can help another disciple to be formed.

Making this principle foundational is not accomplished by a program or a temporary training course. It has to be lived. It must become a pattern of behavior that shapes the DNA of the believer. The tree will be known by its fruit, and the fruit of a believer is another believing disciple. But how does this reproduction become normal? At least three things must be true for this to happen.

First, existing followers of Jesus must become convinced that living as a disciple-making disciple is for them, and they must pray for it to be so. When the Lord first sent out his disciples, they were told to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to raise up laborers to go into that harvest.Even as they went, they were to pray to be multiplied. Whatever their particular gift or ministry, they were to help others join them. Prayer to be faithful in helping to spread the kingdom, and doing so, was part of daily life as a follower of Jesus. Disciple-making was not an option.

Second, a follower of Jesus must first be discipled by another in order to learn the essential pattern of discipling for themselves. Walking alongside a faithful follower teaches them how to do the same. Within days of first following Jesus, those first disciples spent hours, every day, with their Master. They discovered that discipling is a relational, time consuming, and intentional lifestyle. They learned it from the Lord so they could  pass it on. Reproduction is the goal of discipling. To accomplish it requires intentionality. We learn to be disciples by walking with other disciples.

Thus it is that third, a discipled disciple – a made disciple – comes to have confidence to build discipling relationships for themselves. They begin to invite others to walk with them. They make time for meeting with those who want to learn. They develop a loving and open lifestyle, with enough margin always to help make a new disciple as the Lord leads. It is then only a matter of time until such a lifestyle becomes like breathing for them. If the Lord has need of them they will answer his summons.

When the principle of discipling is being lived there will be no day to busy to help disciple another. There will be no schedule too packed to prevent them from helping someone the Lord sends to walk the road of Christ with them. They will never refuse to go”  to the one ready to follow. Discipling will be central to their life.

Next Week:  5) The Principle of Serving.

Expounding The 12 Principles #3: The Principle of Being Sent — (by Jon Shuler​​​)

Passive Christianity is not true Christianity. To always be learning, but never acting, is not faithful but faithless. To be watching what other believers do, but not moving out for oneself, is not to be a follower of Jesus,but a watcher.Rarely did the Lord ask for that response, except near his fateful hour in the Garden of Gethsemane, and then his desire was for their active prayer. From the earliest day of his public ministry, his invitation to those who drew near was follow me.And the purpose of that call was so that those following would learn to be a sent ones. They were to share in the ministry of spreading the kingdom of God.

Some who began to follow might fall away, but none who remained faithful would fail to arrive at a time to be sent. There was good news to share and healing to announce. To be sent was to be truly alive in Christ. Thus it always is when the church flourishes.

But is this for every Christian? The clear testimony of the Holy Scriptures, and the history of the church in every season of grace, declares it to be so. A true believer grows up into the ministry of the whole body. The church in any age will never be healthy when this is forgotten. The love of Christ demands it of all faithful followers. No community that submits to Christcan neglect this truth.

How then is this to be reclaimed in a day when the church is in disarray? How can this pattern of life be restored, when many of those called to lead avoid the challenge of speaking the truth to those who do not yet know it? When a willingness to be sent is rare, what is the true follower to do? Jesus must be the example. The Lord came to seek and to save that which was lost.This reality was at the heart of all that the first disciples witnessed him do. And to this day, when someone turns their heart toward Jesus, and begins to learn from him, it becomes clear that this is their ministry also.

The restoration of the broken and mistreated, the deliverance of the oppressed and the healing of the sick and the blind, must be proclaimed. And when these blessings come, they come that those touched may yield to his gracious rule. First his sovereign rule in this life, and then his glorious rule to all eternity. No one who belongs to him is to miss this calling. They are to hear the Lord saying: As the Father sent me, so I send you.And when they hear they prove to be his by saying: Here am I, send me.

This readiness to be sent is a state of being, an attitude of the heart, not an act of going to a specific place. The specific assignments will be given, and for the majority they will be very local. Most will be sent to their own spouse, their own children, their own town. Their obedience will not be a long distance affair.  And to know to whom they are sent will not be difficult: The daily round, the common task, will furnish all they need to ask.The willingness to be sent, moment by moment, is not optional. It is to be a Christian.

Next Week: 4) The Principle of Discipling.

Expounding The 12 Principles; 2 (by Jon Shuler)

2) The Principle of Work.

The clear example of the Lord Jesus must always be our guide, along with his word. His life and teaching set us the example that we are to live, by the grace of God, in the power of the Holy Spirit. He shows us, and has told us, that his food was to do the Father’s will. He was sent to accomplish the Father’s work.

The same is meant to be true of us who are followers of Jesus. A disciple has work to do that no one else is called to do. Our work is particular and specific. God has prepared it for us.

The Apostle tells us that we were created for particular good works, prepared by God for us to walk in. This is not an idle claim, but one of the deepest truths of the outworking of the gospel. God has not made a mistake in creating us, nor in redeeming us, and it is part of that redemption that we enter into our life’s work as he purposes it for us. The ancient way of expressing it is that we are to give ourselves to “our vocation.” This is our calling, and we will all give an account for it at the judgment.

Because this is so, a believing and obedient disciple cannot long watch others in their service and ministry without entering in to their own. They must pray and struggle to clarify the particulars, with the help of others who love the Lord and love them, but the particular is what they must seek. ‘What is my calling Lord Jesus?’

Many will not come to this quickly after conversion, but some will. The sooner the better for the work of the kingdom. Remaining on the sidelines is inexcusable if delayed by lethargy and sloth, or by alibis and excuses. To be a disciple of Jesus requires a single hearted devotion to the Lord’s will and purpose for ‘me.’ Discipleship has a cost.

How then does this become true in my life? How do I find the work that I am to do? The church that submits to Christ is my helper, but the Lord alone must guide and clarify. He speaks to those who truly follow him. In the early days of ones discipleship there will be trial and error, almost always. And there will be times of discouragement and even significant error. But the mistaken or fallen one must get up. The way of repentance and faith is lifelong, yet the Lord will never “leave or forsake” those who love him.

In many Western churches the work of the body is done by only a few. The majority are expected ‘to attend, to give, and to go home.’ Rare today is a historic congregation with even 20% of its membership mobilized according God’s calling, and thus the effectiveness of the witness of these churches is often minimal.

True disciples cannot let this be so of them. They find their calling, and give themselves to the specific work the Lord Jesus has for them. Nothing less will do.

Next Week: The Principle of Being Sent.

Expounding The 12 Principles (by Jon Shuler)

1) The Principle of Conformity.

There never was a day when the church of Jesus Christ was pure. From the Day of Pentecost there were some who believed truly, wholeheartedly, and obediently. And there were some who seemed to have believed, but it proved to be for their own personal power or gain. Even among the apostolic twelve there was a “son of perdition.”

Yet the call of Jesus was not to the halfhearted or lukewarm, but to those who would follow where he leaded. This was understood by all the “devoted ones” on the day of Pentecost and after. Those who were following Jesus ahead of them, were their mentors and guides. They were discipling the newest believers, and showing them the nature of a life given up completely to God. The Apostle would later write; “Imitate me as I imitate Christ,” but this was not an apostolic pattern, it was a Christian pattern.

To be willing to die for Christ, as Peter thought he was, would come slowly to all the first followers, but it would come. For some it would be literally. In the fullness of time the community of faith would recognize this as the pattern of being conformed to Christ Jesus, who modeled wanting only the “Father’s will” as his daily bread and as his incarnate life’s work. “To live is Christ and to die is gain” cried one of the great Apostles who followed him.

No one who has ever begun the journey of “following Jesus,” and who continued until the day of their new birth, has failed to be shown – in time – that they must truly die to be raised with Christ. These words come to express reality for them, not just a baptismal action or form of words. In times of persecution and martyrdom, these things are seen clearly even by new believers, but in periods of long doctrinal decline and moral decay the church fills with those who do not understand these things.

What then are the boundaries that make a church of sinners a church that the Lord Jesus Christ is building? Are there any?

It must be argued, as vigorously as possible, that a church without boundaries of right belief and morality is not such a church. The church that Jesus builds is a church that produces saints. Men and women come to be conformed to Christ with such consistency, that the standard of faith described in the New Testament is overwhelmingly normal. In such a church the standards of belonging and believing are high. There is no way station on the way to heaven. There is only a journey in this life to being more and more conformed to Christ. But it is a narrow way. And hard.

A believer learns about this from the beginning. A believer desires this to the end.

 

Next Week: The Principal of Work

Foundational Principles — External. (by Jon Shuler)

There are seven more principles that are external to any one individual, but which I believe are the necessary “bones” if the church is to live well for God’s glory. These must be put in place by those who have the authority in the local church to do so. Any leader, lay or ordained, must do their very best to see these principles in place in the local congregation where they serve, and in any ministry they lead.

6) The Principle of Lordship. The words and example of Jesus must be at the center of all ministries and structures. Abiding in Jesus means more than knowing the words of the Lord, it means obeying them structurally. This alone shows someone is “truly” his disciple, and the same is true for his church. Jesus is Lord.

7) The Principle of Biblical Authority. The Apostles Teaching and Fellowship (for us today, the New Testament interpreted through Jesus’ clear teaching and example recorded in the four gospels) must guide all right believing and all right living in the church of Christ Jesus. The biblical gospel is the only gospel. The Word of God is to be preached. This does not negate the Old Testament, but demands that it always be interpreted in the light of the New. To be devoted to this principle is a mark of the Church that submits to Christ.

8) The Principle of Worship. Holy Scripture makes clear that worship is not a Sunday matter only, but a way of life for true believers. The worship of the church has a purpose and an order given by the Lord of the church, but it is not to be an event. Sunday services, and other liturgical gatherings, must regularly be evaluated for their fidelity to the Father’s desire to find those who will “worship in Spirit and in Truth.”

9) The Principle of Discipleship. Living the cycle of discipleship, from being welcomed into the life of a believer to becoming a disciple-making disciple, is the pattern of life for all members of the church.

10) The Principle of Every Member Ministry. The Holy Spirit gives gifts to every believer, for the common good. Every disciple has a ministry to fulfill. A local church which does not understand this, and make it central, is a disobedient church. To call only ordained ministry “the ministry” is a grievous error.

11) The Principle of Recognition. The Leadership of the local church is meant to be recognized by the whole church, and therefore should be conformed to the patterns given by the Holy Spirit in the early days of the church.

12) The Principle of Reconciliation. Conflict resolution structures must exist under the Lordship of Jesus & his Word. Differences will always exist, but the clear commandment of the Lord Jesus that his followers “love one another” must be taken seriously. Clear guidance has been given to us through Jesus’ teaching, and it must be obeyed.

 

Next Week: Expounding The 12 Principles