How We Do Ministry, Part 1
These days, most people “check out” a church by “checking out” its website. If that’s you, or maybe you’ve been attending New Hope and and are asking what’s really important to us, we’d need begin with the WORD. Consider with me for a moment, the centrality of the Word in the life of a gospel community, or church. Because without the Word, we won’t know who we are (sinners), we won’t know what the gospel is, and we won’t know what our calling, or mission is.?? The Bible itself is clear about the central, authoritative, life-giving and life-sustaining role of the Word in a gospel community. Paul says that it is through the words of Scripture that we receive salvation: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). Peter adds that it is through the Word that the new life we have in Christ is nourished, as the Spirit gives us understanding: “…long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you might grow up into salvation–” (I Peter 2:2). In John 17, Jesus teaches us that he gives us eternal life, and that eternal life means knowing the only true God. But how is it that we know the only true God? It is through the Word: “I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me” (John 17:3,8). ??Not only is the Word the means of giving and sustaining spiritual life. It also defines the authority of God’s servants who teach and preach. Their authority is both derived from the Word and limited by the Word. In other words, they have authority to pronounce and make clear what the Word says, to make clear the authority of the Word and to enforce the authority of the Word. On the other hand, their authority is not to exceed this, or to be based on the force of their personality or charisma. Pastors who forget this tend to use and abuse the church as if it belonged to them, when in fact it is the bride of Jesus!
Maybe this sounds basic, but it seems increasingly forgotten in many circles. To be specific, see if you have experienced these kinds of neglect or abuse of the Word.
The Word as inerrant, but not sufficient–In other words, we say the Word is truth, but when it comes to teaching, we resort to other things. For example, one popular television preacher has his congregation hold up their Bibles and say, “This is my Bible, etc.” and then puts it down and proceeds to talk about everything else but the Word. No. We need to study the text, and draw our nourishment from it, not the happy thoughts of a mere man.
The Word as pretext to say whatever I want–A variation of the above, but here, the verse is quoted and then made to say whatever the preacher wants to say. No. We are to humbly sit under the Word and learn what God says through it, not just hear it say what someone, however charismatic, wants it to say.
The Word as whatever it means to you–Here, it’s not what the preacher injecting his thoughts into Scripture–Here it is you who is encouraged to see whatever you want in the text. “What does this say to you?” we are asked. No. We need to ask, “What does God mean to say through this text?” Then we can ask what it means to us in our situation.
Experience, not Word as central--In this variation, we are encouraged to experience God apart from the Word. But experience apart from truth is dangerous. The experience we say is “of god” might not be from God at all. For example, a married man might say to his mistress “I feel God has brought us together.” He might feel that. But the Word says, “No, that is wrong. Go back to your wife.” So his feeling of what God wants is self-deceiving and altogether wrong. The same thing can happen when a church as a whole majors in experiences that are not rooted in the Word. We should experience God–joy, wonder, reverence, ecstasy, yes, we should. But it must be experience that springs from the truth of the Word and which is in line with the Word.
If we avoid this minefield of abuses, and stick with respecting the Word as the Word, we will see, over time, the benefits of spiritual health, depth, strength, and vitality!