Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Five Things

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on March 10, 2010 at 7:54 am

Dear Pastors:

I was asked to write to you about why I go to a Reformed Baptist church. The answer is simple: my church does what I need a church to do. Since you are probably told much about what your congregates need, I thought I might take the time to give you some inside information. Here are five things I as a lay congregate need church to do for me, and five things I can do without.

5 Things I Need Church to Do:

1. Preach the Gospel

I need to be told over and over again that I am a sinner, and that Christ died to save sinners. Both parts are crucial. Without an understanding of sin, its weight and its consequences; salvation becomes incoherent and Christianity is simply reduced to a set of arbitrary cultural signifiers. I’ve got my pick of cultural signifiers. I need to understand sin, I need to understand redemption, and I constantly need to be reminded of the reality of both. That is what Church offers exclusively over everything else that I could be doing on Sunday morning.

2. Administer the Sacraments

Once, I needed to be baptized. Now, I need to see other people baptized. I need the Lord’s supper. Often, if it is up to me. It is strange and beautiful that the only picture we have of Christ is the consumption of bread and wine. He must have thought that we needed those things to remember and understand Him. I’m inclined to agree with Christ. In a way I can’t fully explain, I need these things like you wouldn’t believe.

3. Teach me the Bible

The Bible is the most complex book I have ever read. The Bible is not just any book, but it is a book. I need men who are going to approach that Book with the intellectual rigor it deserves. The Lord has richly blessed us with a book that bears the weight of a lifetime of serious study. There are connections to be made, there are genres to be understood, there are symbols to be analyzed, there are cultural contexts to be applied, there are translation issues to be recognized, there are motifs to be united, and most of all there is the over-arching plot of redemption. I need church to help me understand those things.

4. Love

The first sermon I really heard didn’t come from behind the pulpit; it was the love displayed by God’s people towards one another and towards me. Paradoxically, nothing destroys my pride like the unconditional love of God’s people. This love is not the same as flattery. It’s active and concrete. I need encouragement. I need instruction. Sometimes I may need discipline. I might need a ride to work. God’s people have offered me all of these things. God has offered me all of these things through His people. Never forget that I too need the opportunity to do these things for others.

5. Provide an Opportunity to Sing to God and About God

If I could sum up my advocacy for traditional singing, it would be this: every individual voice becomes so important, that no individual voice is particularly important. People forget themselves and remember Christ, good and bad voices swell together, and nobody is really paying attention to anyone because everybody is paying attention to everyone. Sometimes, I feel like it is not my voice coming out of my mouth at all, but all the congregation’s voice together. That is when I most understand why God commanded us to do this.

5 Things I Don’t Need Church to Do

1. Sell

Christianity is not a “brand.” Don’t treat it like it is. If you act like a salesman, I’m inclined to treat you like one and shop around. Your focus groups are pointing you to the middle of the road, which is a dangerous place to try to build a house. Stop looking for what I want and give me what I need, otherwise I probably won’t get either from your church.

2. Entertain Me

I am really good at entertaining myself. You are probably not as good at it. You don’t know what I want. I can listen to the music I like, watch the movies I like, and play with the toys I like at my house. What I can’t do is preach to myself and shepherd my soul. That’s where you come in. If your goal is my entertainment, send me an itunes giftcard and let me sleep in.

3. Be Just Like Me

I don’t know if I could bear to stay in a congregation that was just like me. Not because I hate myself, but because it would be perverse. Imagine a body made entirely of eyes, or tongues or livers. Gross. I love my congregation because most of them are nothing like me. Christ ministers to me through their experiences, idiosyncrasies, weaknesses, and gifts. I get to call people from a confounding array of backgrounds and circumstances brothers and sisters. Why would I want you to try and guess who I am and imitate it? I know me; we’ve already met. I need a body.

4. Make Me Laugh

The world we live in is a funny place, and God has probably blessed us with a sense of humor to retain our sanity in it. Because of that, sometimes things you say will be funny. We will laugh. However, the message of the gospel is one of eternal seriousness. If I am in danger of mistaking you for a standup comic, I am in danger of mistaking Christ for a joke. I’m serious about my soul, and I need you to be too.

5. Enlist Me as a Soldier in the Culture Wars

Our religion ought to inform our politics as it ought to inform our whole life. There are some political issues we should not be silent on (abortion comes to mind). However, the “culture wars” in America have duped Christians into enlisting in causes that have nothing to do with their religion. Worse still, it makes our religion into simply one aspect of a larger subsuming culture complete with its own schools, dress, music, television shows and diets. It doesn’t take a large jump before those things all become of similar importance, and Christ takes his place in the pantheon between Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck (or Obama and Al Franken, as the case may be). It’s the devil’s old bait-and-switch. Christ didn’t have a problem with the Pharisee’s actual righteousness, he had a problem with assuming that adherence to arbitrary cultural conventions was righteousness. Christianity is not a culture, it is trans-cultural. When we engage in evangelism, it should not be to make people more like us, but rather more like Christ.

Justin Longacre

  1. Very good. We need men who will willingly teach the Gospel and not just entertain and if they do, they might as well, to put it in your words Justin, send us itunes gift cards. God bless you brother.

  2. This should post is a great encouragement to me as a Reformed Baptist Pastor. We need to keep putting the first things first. Since God and His Word is true, His appointed Means of Grace must of necessity be more powerful to change sinners and strengthen saints than the marketing techniques of the world.

  3. Thanks for your comments. Lots of great points, and much of what you said echoes in my own soul. But I think your approach is potentially flawed. We shouldn’t structure how we are to “do” church as pastors around what you think you “need” or “don’t need” as a believer frustrated (though with good reasons) with the status quo, but around what the Bible teaches. Now the Bible does teach that we should consider the real needs of people within a scriptural framework. But that is not where we should start. Someone else might come along with a different list…then what? Giving the people what they want can have disastrous effects. We are well aware of that when what they want looks “worldly,” but it may be treacherous when it is “religious” or as well. The danger may be to create a different kind of seeker sensitivity where we have changed our “target audience” from unbelievers to some other group (say… middle class, white, conservative, moderately educated, suburban, whatever, etc). What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander…

  4. I agree with Steve!

  5. Maybe Matt can write a blog on five things a blog needs to do for him and five things he can do without 😉

  6. Justin, your post was not flawed, potentially or otherwise. You were clear as a bell. May your tribe increase!

  7. Well said! Dear pastors preach the gospel to us every week….please!!!

  8. I agree with EJH. Matt, I think Justin’s list of needs is not necessarily the same as Justin’s wants. If Justin’s needs are grounded in Scripture, then there is no flaw or potential flaw in his approach. Justin is not saying, “Give me what I want.” He is not advocating “Giving the people what they want”, as you seem to be reading him. Also, concerning a target audience, our primary audience should be first God, the Seeker (Jn. 4:23, “…the Father seeks…”), then the saints – that’s what churches are comprised of. Granted, unbelievers may be present at a church’s meeting for worship but that does not mean they are the target of a church’s corporate worship.

  9. I think it is a good piece, and I said that. Still think so even after reading it the second time:-) I just get there from a different direction. Maybe it is my experience, but I am wary that personal preferences (not the things he listed) like to dress up in other clothing.

  10. This doesn’t present a case, necessarily, for attending a reformed Baptist church exclusively; other churches provide the same points (positive and negative). Your personal opinion is well-stated nevertheless, and I agree with Rich’s response.

  11. I didn’t see any “personal preferences” in Justin’s list – it sounded pretty biblical to me. Seems to me that all he was saying was “He must increase, and I (we all) must decrease”…

  12. Great post! Let the church be the church and let the church obey Christ’s marching orders.

  13. I agree with Matt. It could be taken that Justin’s approach could be misused. His felt needs are Biblical and good. But what if someone picks up on the idea of “what I need” and decides that they need to laugh on Sundays because their week is such a drudgery?

    In Justin’s case he presented what I believe the Bible says the church should be about. My hesitancy comes from the fact that it was presented as preference. There’s nothing binding about what I’d like or prefer. Sola Scriptura.

  14. Justin,
    I pastor a Southern Baptist church and while we are certainly reformed in our understanding of soteriology, we wouldn’t be considered “Reformed Baptist”. That being qualified….I still found myself encouraged as I read your lists. We strive (although I’m sure imperfectly) to do all those things. The only real variance would be musical style. Thank you for your thoughtful and encouraging post. I have 0 problem with you proclaiming what you “need” from a church. We all have our lists spoken or not.

    I’d like to make one point as an outsider. I’m not sure your list divides traditional reformed baptistic churches from churches like mine at first glance. I feel that if we were to dive deeper into each listed item we would find more differences. RICHARD BARCELLOS would probably amen that! (thanks for the link via Twitter Rich)

  15. Tim, you need to run. 🙂

  16. I agree with Richard.

  17. I love this post and Justin has said some wonderful things very graciously. My radar just goes off when I hear, “I go to XYZ church because it meets my needs.” He has mentioned some great things, and I get the point of what he is saying and I actually agree with him.

  18. Tim I am a bit befuddle as to why you would take exception to this blog! Do you really think that you need to police Reformed Baptist congregates, lest they go “seeker – sensitive?” Perhaps if we would have had a picture of my son-in-law (Justin) sitting with his mandolin (or one of his many other instruments that he plays very well) and had him write something that excoriated our churches and their convictions, it would have a better reception with some.

    Here is a simple, straightforward blog, written by a young Christian man who loves his church. In most circles, there would not be any alarm. I have often said that if we had a plain blog that just stated, “Most Reformed Baptists are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ” there would be howls and protests. Oh wait, that is pretty much what this blog was!

  19. David, are you claiming that most non-Reformed Baptists are not believers in the Lord Jesus Christ? 🙂

  20. I was just thinking that my last comment is true. But the day is coming in which a world will exist where all in it will be believers in the Lord Jesus. May that day come soon!

  21. David, you should upload the picture with the mandolin for the post. That would make it more interesting. That is more than a want than a need for me 🙂

  22. I think it’s safe to say that these “needs” are Biblically based, and not “carnal needs” but “spiritual needs”. Though Justin has referred this list as “his needs”, judging from the list there’s nothing self centered about it, wouldn’t you say? The Bible does teach us that we all have needs — one to the carnal nature and one to the spiritual nature, which both are waging war against each other within our being for as long as we are in this body. As Paul once said, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” Would you not agree brothers that what Justin has listed is what the Spirit desires Biblically and not driven by carnal desires? If there’s no disagreement about that, then he should be commended for mentioning these “spiritual needs”.

    Justin, as another layperson, I can sympathize with that list! It is truly hard to find good churches these days that doesn’t cater to carnal needs! Thanks!

  23. Justin! Always a fan of your writing style and I particularly echo list items “Love” and “Sell”. It’s exceptionally comforting to see men our age stand for Biblical Truths specifically in the way of public worship. In a world that is constantly on the edges of their seats waiting to call time-out because we’ve drawn a line in the sand, you’ve been a big encouragement.
    From my sense of humor down to the way I dress there always seems to be an inherit pull from within Christianity to take men like me and hold us up as examples of being “Cool and a Christian”. The truth is, I’m very un-cool, that’s WHY I’m a Christian, that’s why I need Christ. I don’t want Church to be the same as a Jam Session with the guys on Friday night. I don’t want to be entertained by what the world would consider “entertaining”. After all, I catch myself being forced to shut off DVD’s because the opening scenes paint pictures of immorality and degradation of women, why would we as Christian men allow external influences in the way of entertaining God’s people on His day, in any way shape or form? Better yet, even if the pictures painted by what the world considered “entertainment” weren’t immoral, or even sinful, why is it even up for discussion that we (Christians) would need something other than what Christ himself instituted for Public worship? There seems to be a new breed of “lawyers”, (much like Ambulance Chasers) that live to peek around the corners of Church gatherings, blogs, debates, and forums just waiting to throw their arms up in a ruckus because someone made a very definitive claim of what they expect when they meet with the Saints on the Lord’s Day. In a world where everyone has a right or entitlement to pretty much anything and everything, it has made it incredibly difficult for Christian Men to stand hand and hand together and make black and white claims as to what we will believe, practice and teach particularly pertaining to worship. Because now we have to stop and think about what is more important and necessary in order to “Win Souls in 2010”. As if 2000+ years of preaching the Gospel to convert the sinner somehow just isn’t quite enough. It’s scary sometimes to have to stop and think if what we’re about to say is going to offend someone, whether it’s an exegetical doctrine, the penned words of Paul, or something that came directly out of the mouth of Christ. It makes me wonder if sometimes being offended is something that might do us all some good? I mean, was it not an offense having our Lord hung on a tree? I guess I’m just growing tired, even as a 28 year old guy, because I have to be worried that if I just simply ask for the Bible and the Brethren on the Lord’s Day that I’m somehow doing an Injustice to those that might enjoy a little guitar and drums as well. I appreciate your post Justin and would love to have you over to Jam out sometime! 😉
    If I could just say to the Pastors on this blog, coming from a 28 year old guy that loves rock music, Thank You! As Reformed Baptists having very specific convictions while pressing on through a world of influence I urge you to continue maintaining Biblical worship services in your congregations. There might be many toes stepped on and some that take offense to a possible lack of musical accompaniment, we should all rest assured that Christ has given us all we need to gather with the brethren and worship in love and Truth.

  24. David, I really don’t understand what you’re saying there brother. My comment had nothing to do with what Reformed Baptist churches are or are not doing simply with the way Justin phrased what he said.

    I think you know what my problems with Reformed Baptist churches are and there are NOT that they’re going to be seeker-sensitive any time soon!

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