Sunday, August 28, 2016

Distinctions in Churches and Characteristics of Churches: I Know What Distinguishes Ours

When I talk to most others about our church, I characterize it with the Lord Jesus Christ, His identity. We deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus.  I might explain the Trinity.  I could talk about a Christian worldview, where God is separate from and not part of His creation.  The world has been ruined by sin, but redemption is found in Jesus Christ and our lives and future are wrapped up in Him.  God is loving, but He is also holy and just, and sin must be punished.  Jesus died for us.  We can't be saved by works, but through faith in Christ.

Our church has unity around the truth.  We love God and we love our neighbor.  We want to obey the Great Commission, making disciples, true worshipers of God.  We are a congregational form of church government with authoritative, not authoritarian leadership, building up the people in the faith through careful exposition of scripture.  The pastor leads, feeds, and protects.  We are historic Baptists.  We believe in the sufficiency of the Word of God. Those are what characterize our church, how our church could be described.

However, someone might park on what distinguishes our church from other churches.  Reformation era Baptists wrote the Schleitheim Confession in 1527 to distinguish themselves from the Protestants and the state church, not from other religions.  It is a short confession, because it is meant to distinguish.  It is a list of distinctions.  Those Baptists agreed a lot on certain matters with certain of the Protestants. They wouldn't of argued on all of those things, but they found there were distinctions that didn't characterize them, but distinguished them.  The Schleitheim Confession doesn't make a statement about the deity of Christ.  Of course, Michael Sattler believed Jesus was God.

Baptists have also distinguished themselves by producing a list of historic "Baptist distinctives."  Mark Dever started 9 Marks as a list of the distinctions of what they consider to be healthy churches.  I wrote several years ago that 9 Marks were not enough.  I like all 9 of them.  They are not enough though.  Several more should be included without which the merely 9 Marks is disobedient.

Many churches today distinguish themselves by their gimmicks.  In our area, three mega churches compete by pandering to people.  They distinguish themselves with their pragmatism.  All three of them know they are full of unsaved people.  When they lure people to their churches they use temporal and self-gratifying means.

What characterizes our church is that we are serious about the gospel.  We are serious about spreading it, explaining it, and defending it.  You would know that if you attended our church.  Our people testify of preaching the gospel to many people every week.  It is who we are.  We are serious about our precision with the gospel and how we deal with people using the gospel.  The gospel is at the forefront.  Even when we deal with someone's Christian life, it centers on the gospel.  They love the life they live out of the gospel.

If you were in our church, you would know that preaching and worship are important to us.  Everything centers on the Word of God.  People actually do talk about and discuss the Bible all the time at our church.  That is a regular focus of our church.  We fulfill New Testament elements of worship with reverence toward God.

When someone is saved through the preaching of the gospel, we immediately begin discipleship.  We go at least thirty weeks.  It's very doctrinal -- practical too -- but majors on doctrine.  It doesn't even mention what others would say distinguishes me and our church.

Some churches are serious about a message that is different than the gospel, because they are mainly about methodology.  It is one new fangled thing after another.  You can tell that you are being handled the moment you walk in.  It is a type of club more so than it is a church.  Everything has some angle toward getting and keeping you.  They promote their programs and what would entice an unbelieving person in a fleshly way.

With everything that I've said so far, I know that certain beliefs and practices of our church distinguish us from a relatively small group to begin with.  I haven't chosen what distinguishes our church.  Those distinctions have chosen us.  It is very much parallels the quotation in 1864 from Elizabeth Charles in her book, Chronicles of the Schonberg-Cotta Family (p. 276):
If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.
What distinguishes our church is the portion of the truth of God, which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking.  We are distinguished by what people attack us for. We answer.  They attack some more.  In those areas, other churches have folded.  They are biblical and historical teachings, but they are diminishing from the pressure of the world and the devil.  We stand out because we haven't stopped believing and practicing in those very areas.

Our church separates from other churches. We practice ecclesiastical separation.  We practice it because the Bible teaches it, but many churches do not, so that distinguishes us.  Even though it doesn't characterize us or describe us, it is what distinguishes us from other churches that might even be conservative in their theology.

Besides being separatists, I know that what really sets us apart are five or six other traits.  I have no control over these being distinctions.  They are distinctions.  As time goes on, others may be added to these because these are where the battle rages.  At one time, they would not have distinguished us at all.  Many believed and practiced in certain ways like we do.  That has changed.

You might just be a biologist, but if you believe in creation as a professor at a state university, that's not what will distinguish you.  Biology is what describes you or characterizes you, but it is not a distinction.  Others are biologists, but you are a creationist too, so now it is creationism is how you are distinguished, because you don't flinch at that one point.

I've been told very many times that we have a very loving, friendly, unified church.  People notice it. However, I've not been known for that in most places.  In other places, I'm known by what distinguishes us from other people closer to who we are.

The list is really pretty simple today, and not necessarily in this order.  We use the King James Version.  Our music is holy, reverent, and conservative.  We sing psalms out of a psalter.  We go door-to-door evangelizing and are aggressive at our evangelism.  Our people wear modest clothing, and we keep designed distinctions between men (pants) and women (skirts and dresses) in attire.  We are local only in our ecclesiology.  We are unaffiliated so we don't support mission board missionaries or utilize parachurch organizations like Christian colleges, universities, or camps.  We practice personal separation.  We use no worldly methodology.  That's about it.

You could probably shrink the above list as far as what people would call us.  Personally, I look for some other factors in a more serious way regarding others, but these are what people are serious about us.  They would say what characterizes us is that we're hyper separatists, King James Onlyists, and probably legalists, the latter because of the dress and music.  One of the Rick Warren style churches would call us a "ball and chain" church (not to our face, only in the ads).  I believe we have true liberty in Christ and the ball and chain is around the people of that church.

I would say we are biblical in belief and practice.  If the Bible teaches it, that's what we want to believe and practice.  We are open to change, if we see it in the Bible.  Besides that, we're studying our Bible, preaching the gospel everywhere, and doing serious discipleship. 

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