Small Group Training Guide

Small-Groups

The future of the local church will largely depend on the successful development of a small group ministry, especially since small groups are vital to both growth and discipleship, on the part of the believer, and the church as a whole. According to Rod Dempsey, “Churches that are not functioning in this manner run the risk of becoming inward in their focus”[1] and inward-focused groups die. Additionally, as Phil Zambaro explains, “Loneliness is the most devastating illness of our day [and] I know of no more potent killer than isolation. There is [also] no more destructive influence on the physical and mental health than isolation… [Because,] our hunger for relationships is an identifying mark of our humanity.”[2] This need for relationships and connectivity makes the role of small groups a fundamental part of any successful church. As a result, this Small Group Training Manual will first define small groups, by illustrating their biblical foundation and by providing the necessary motivations for developing them. Once a clear understanding of a small group’s influence, vision, and mission are formulated, this manual will then address how to grow and multiply small groups, how to develop group leaders, and lastly how to transition from a “with,” model to a “of,” or “is” model using the “S.M.A.L.L. G.R.O.U.P.S.” acrostic.

MOTIVATIONS FOR DEVELOPING GROUPS

Dempsey explains, “The church has a head; the head of the church is Jesus. The church also has members that need to be connected to the head and connected to each other.”[3] Small groups provide the conduit to satisfy all these needs and they also allow for the opportunity of spending time with one another because there is a huge commitment needed to growing and sacrificing as a disciple of Christ. Jesus, Himself said, “Take up your cross,”(Matthew 16:24) illustrating the necessity of commitment and doing life together in small groups. Additionally, the relational aspect of following Christ means followers should join together as brothers and sisters in an attitude of love for one another. This was the identifying mark Jesus said would reveal His true disciples; by the love he or she showed the world (Matthew 22:36-40). Dempsey also points out, “The process must be intentional, individual, and missional in focus, as small groups have the potential to provide and create a perfect environment and context to develop people for God’s kingdom and for God’s glory.”[4]

One’s primary reason for wanting to develop small group ministry must be rooted in love and a desire to fulfill the commandments of the Lord. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) is a wonderful representation of what God calls every believer to do as followers of Christ. Dempsey and Earley further explain the importance of, “Loving God, loving one another, and loving our neighbor [because these] are universal principles. They will work anywhere, at any time, and in any political situation. The key to your success is to begin practicing the principles behind the commands Jesus gave us. Live your life purposefully for God and lead by example.”[5] Another important reason for developing small groups is found in the principle of multiplication. Dempsey and Earley illustrate the strongest churches in the world have tens of thousands of members in thousands of small groups. As humans, and with finite minds, it can oftentimes be hard to fathom the omnipotence of God and His marvelous plan of salvation and redemption. As a result, when most churches are planning areas of ministry, the addition of believers is used as the primary litmus test for success; however, God, as Dempsey and Earley convey, “Has given us an exponential plan to reach the world. The question is… are you following an addition or a multiplication plan? Why should you lead a group? That is easy: to follow His command to make disciples of all the nations.”[6] A final reason for forming small groups lies in the desire for community. As Jeffrey Arnold explains, “Jesus Christ is our first and greatest model for how small groups can stimulate faith and growth in others… [Ultimately,] disciples are made intentionally, disciples are made to be like Christ, and disciples are made in relationships”[7] and there is no better place for these to occur than in a community made up of small groups.

BIBLICAL FOUNDATIONS FOR GROUPS

At the heart of the Great Commission is the commandment to make disciples and this instruction is why Bill Hull emphasizes, “The small group is the most strategic training environment used by Christ to make the kind of disciples that glorify God.”[8] Small groups are vital to the future success of the local church and as a small group leader, he or she is essentially engaging in the same ministry Christ Himself was committed to. Small groups have the potential to change lives and there are multiple breakthroughs that will happen in small groups, that rarely happen within the four walls of the church, as Chuck Swindoll illuminates, “[In small groups,] fences come down, masks come off, welcome signs are hung outside the door, keys to the doors of our lives are duplicated and distributed, and joys and sorrows are shared.”[9]

While the Great Commission is a wonderful representation of what God calls every believer to do as followers of Christ, the sad reality is many so-called followers of Christ have reduced the Great Commission to nothing more than the great suggestion. However, this command from God points to the small groups as being the perfect environment to develop and train disciples. The early church is a prime example of doing life together. In Acts, chapters one and two, specifically (Acts 2:41-47,) the reader becomes aware of the DNA of early small group ministry. These home churches met together, studied the apostles’ teaching, shared meals together, met each other’s needs, prayed together, had favor with the local people, and went everywhere proclaiming the good news of the gospel. These early churches understood the importance of every person having a role to play in the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 12:21) and the necessity of serving one another. The final passage that illustrates the role of small groups is (Ephesians 4:16.) Here, Paul explains how some followers of Christ are: apostles, prophets, shepherds, teachers, or evangelists, but how each of their primary duties is to train and equip God’s people for the work of the church. The ultimate goal is for believers to grow into the fullness of Christ, as each member of the body contributes to this growth, but it is small groups, which provide the optimal context and environment for this process to take place.

In the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40), Dempsey demonstrates, “Jesus took 619 rabbinical laws and pharisaical practices and reduced them down to two simple principles: Love God and love your neighbor.”[10] Jesus Himself was a small group leader, so Dempsey and Earley raise a very relevant question: “If Jesus, the Son of God, chose to strategically minister to a small group, how much more should you and I?”[11] Jeff Tunnell then illustrates, “By sorting out one’s biblical values, [this] will lead to principles and conducts that glorify God and His ways, which ultimately make the gospel irresistible to some and repulsive to others.”[12] By using the Bible as authority, prayer as a means, dependency upon God as one’s posture, and love as the primary motive, Tunnell reveals multiple principles that are consistent with the truth of the gospel. As a result of embodying and devoting oneself to this truth, Tunnell shows followers were devoted to: “following the apostles’ teaching, fostering unity, sharing meals, practicing prayer, corporate worship, celebrating communion, living in community, and sharing generously, [resulting in,] salvations and favor with all the people.”[13]

Hospitality was one of the major things Jesus was known for; in fact, He set the standard. Jesus is repeatedly seen dining and visiting with outcasts. Joel Comiskey explains, “Most of the ancient world regarded hospitality as a moral practice… [And,] eating together in the household was one of the primary ways to share life together as well as to welcome strangers and those outside the household. Most would agree that sharing a meal is the second most intimate encounter one can engage in outside of the bedroom, which is why sharing meals together is such an important principle for small groups. When Jesus chose to send His disciples out in pairs, this approach showed He knew it was not good to be alone, especially in ministry. Comiskey explains when the disciples entered a home, “They were supposed to convert the members of that particular household, and reach the other homes from a base location – rather than witnessing from house-to-house (Luke 10:7). Remaining in a house only makes sense if, beyond the initial proclamation of the kingdom message, the messengers stayed on to further nurture and establish a faith community.”[14] This strategy led to entire households and villages being converted to Christ and new home churches being formed and by modeling this same strategy, small groups meeting in homes are having great success today.

WHAT IS A SMALL GROUP

Dempsey and Earley use the acrostic S.M.A.L.L. G.R.O.U.P.S. to demonstrate the necessary components small groups must possess. Seek God’s vision and direction from His Word,[15] (Acts 1:8; 2:32-47; Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 1:28) which allows the group’s foundation to be set on solid ground. Make sure the lead pastor is in the lead position.[16] Without the senior pastor’s full backing, it will be very difficult for small groups to reach their full potential. Adopt a model that fits who and where you are, as long you are emphasizing: winning people to Christ, helping them grow in Christ, and then sending them out for Christ.[17] Leadership training and recruitment[18] because as Jerry Falwell asserts, “Everything rises and falls on leadership,” so this component is vital to the future success of any small group. “Launch the new groups, [while also] providing the leaders with additional training to stay focused and to improve the quality of discipleship.”[19] After careful prayer, planning, and training it is time to launch new groups and according to Dempsey, the best time to do this is after Labor Day, when children are back in school and people are settling into their new schedules and routines.[20]

Two G.R.O.U.P.(S.) acrostics are presented in forming and maintaining small groups. Guided by a leader is the first objective, since, “In order for a group to be successful, the leader of the group needs to view their role as drawing out the new creation God has in mind for every individual in the group.”[21] Regular meeting times are vital to the success of small groups and Dempsey believes, “Meeting weekly is best, so people can gather to serve and share God’s love and gifts with one another and with the world.”[22] Opening God’s Word is mandatory in small groups due to the Bible’s power to change people’s lives from the inside out (Hebrews 4:12; Romans 12:2). Dempsey illustrates, “Studying and applying the Word of God has the power to change us from what we are into what God has in mind for us.”[23] United in service is rooted in the Great Commandment (John 13:34-35). Dempsey explains, “Spiritual gifts are designed to strengthen the body of Christ and to serve the world… [And] every believer has at least one spiritual gift to build up the body of Christ and to minister and serve others.”[24] Prayer for one another is what separates a Christ-centered group from a civic club. As Jerry Falwell so brilliantly put it, “Nothing of eternal significance ever happens apart from prayer,” making this a necessary component to any successful small group ministry.

Dempsey’s second G.R.O.U.P.S. acrostic entails:

Grow the groups in quantity and quality, paying special attention to new groups. Retrain the leaders to retrain the leaders, through personal mentoring and coaching and reward the right behavior. Over communicate, to make sure the small group leaders are getting enough information from the leaders in ministry. Utilize and develop a coaching structure, (Exodus 18) so the groups stay on target with the vision and mission of the church. Pray, because as Comiskey discovered, prayer was the common denominator in multiplying groups where leaders of the groups prayed at least one hour a day. See God’s blessing as new disciples are being made and remember small groups provide the best place to make disciples, because Christianity is more caught than taught.[25]

HOW TO DEVELOP SMALL GROUP LEADERS

According to Dempsey, “Leaders are grown in small groups, most successful churches have an emphasis on small groups, and small groups are a true representation of the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:23).”[26] Dempsey and Earley provide eight habits, which will enhance the effectiveness of small group leaders and will, “Create a path that leads to fruitfulness, and multiplication, helping leaders, and those under them, experience greater fulfillment in ministry.”[27] They are as follows:

(1) Dream of leading a healthy, growing, multiplying group. (2) Pray for your group members daily. (3) Invite new people to visit your group weekly. (4) Contact your group members regularly. (5) Prepare for your group meetings. (6) Mentor an apprentice leader. (7) Plan group fellowship activities. (8) Be committed to your own personal growth.

In developing leaders, there is much that can be learned from the early church model and several strategies can be implemented today. For example, by using Rod Dempsey 4 M’s model: “Model it, by being the paradigm; Mentor it and never do anything alone in ministry; Motivate it by personally giving encouragement to people; and Multiply your ministry by handing it off to others so they can have ownership and run with it.”[28] Leaders must realize Satan works in isolation, but God works in community, so find a Paul who can be a mentor; find a Timothy, someone to disciple; and find a Barnabas someone to be an encourager.

HOW TO LEAD A GROUP

As Dempsey asserts, “Anyone who knows Christ can be a leader, since being a leader is all about influence.”[29] Within the framework of small groups, Dempsey and Dave Earley identify three key leadership positions. The first is the small group leader who, “Understands their job is to serve and empower [the attendees] to ‘be all they can be’ for Christ. The small group leader [also] selects the curriculum, finds a good location to meet, and chooses an apprentice who will be trained to start a new group.”[30] The second leadership position in a small group is the apprentice who is basically a small group leader in training, with the goal of leading his or her own small group within several months. The apprentice is involved with all areas of planning and leadership, to provide the best chance for success when facilitating his or her own small group. The third leadership position in a small group is the host, who are primarily responsible for making attendees feel welcome. Dempsey and Earley illustrate hosts are, “Vital to making the small group experience a good one for everyone who comes to their home and [when these three positions are] involved in the planning, preparation, and execution of small groups, the groups have a much better chance for healthy growth and multiplication.”[31]

Leadership was paramount in the house church and much can be learned in the way Jesus first trained His disciples, who would become the first small group leaders. Comiskey illustrates, “Because of the growth of the early church, the need for leadership expanded rapidly… and the early apostles provided the overarching leadership, but depended on the house church leaders to shepherd and care for the rest of God’s church. As in the case of Acts 6, leaders who had proven themselves were chosen to care for the needs of the Grecian Jewish widows, and oversee the distribution of food. In many cases, the individual who opened up their home would assume the leadership role and Comiskey attributes Paul’s use of the oikos structure as the perfect environment to develop leaders naturally.[32] In all small groups, Paul taught on the importance of allowing the Holy Spirit to guide and develop leadership. Comiskey agrees and explains how, “The early church believed that the Spirit was given to all believers and was actively working through each member.”[33] Interestingly, it would be in the early church that women found themselves on equal footing with men and on numerous occasions presented in the New Testament, women were actually presented as being significant leaders.[34]

Leadership roles in the early church differ from today, in the sense that in the New Testament, there were no bishops-pastor-elder hierarchy and Comiskey explains these terms were actually interchangeable for the same role. Over the years, one of the unfortunate errors is how elders have been transliterated as overseers, instead of being translated as workers of the church. While the early church met primarily in homes, sometimes those individual entities would gather together for larger meetings. Throughout the New Testament, ecclesia was used to refer to the house church gatherings, the larger gatherings, and the universal church, Ultimately, as Comiskey illustrates, “Churches must determine if they are going to view the cell group as the church and the primary care structure for members, or just another program to keep people coming back to the Sunday gathering. If the church chooses to prioritize cell ministry, those cells and cell leaders need to be equipped, coached, and cared for in a cell structure that includes training, coaching, and celebrating together.”[35]

In addition to the three leadership positions, Dempsey and Earley cite three components/streams that when employed combine to form one powerful, moving force. The first is the biblical stream, made up of the qualities found in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3, which relate to the leader’s values and being blameless. This “Means that he [or she] does not have any major spiritual area that could come into question or attack from the enemy.”[36] The second component is the spiritual stream, which is rooted in an understanding and execution of the first stream. This stream is composed of: prayer, spiritual gifts, fruit of the Spirit, armor of God, and Spirit of God. Dempsey and Earley explain, “Many leaders are one the front lines of the battle, but they may not be aware of the [spiritual] weapons and armor that they have as soldiers of the King. Another challenge is that many leaders may be aware of the tools they have at their disposal, but they may not be skilled in using the spiritual arsenal.”[37] The third component is the practical stream, which as Dempsey and Earley demonstrate allows, “The small group leader to receive a vision from God and communicate it clearly to the people entrusted to his or her care.” This stream is made up of: planning, organizing, communicating, training, mentoring, multiplying and vision casting.

HOW TO GROW SMALL GROUPS

Arnold presents one of the best models this writer has come across when looking at the role and dynamics of small groups, especially when one takes into consideration the 80/20 principle he highlights. Arnold illustrates, “As members of the body, we are reliant on one another and on Christ, and mutually responsible to use whatever contribution we make to grow the body into maturity.”[38] When a group reaches inward, the focus is on group care. Arnold demonstrates how, “Groups provide love and care for their members in many ways [and] a loving community offers members a positive body life experience by engaging people in the discovery of their spiritual gifts, developing the lay leadership of the church, and caring for its members.”[39] There is something so empowering about finding one’s gifting and then engaging in ministry fulfilling the role God has called the person to. However, without an environment to first define and second to refine the areas of spiritual gifting(s), many people never reach his or her full potential. In addition to equipping individuals with various giftings, the spiritual maturity of the individual is also a byproduct, which further refines his or her discipline and produces great future leaders. For large churches especially, this inward focus is vital because congregational care, unknown, and unmet needs are a daily occurrence. With a focus on small groups, this is an amazing step in making people truly feel cared for and also provides an area of ministry for other members with the gift(s) of prayer, comfort, love, and compassion.

As groups focus on reaching upward, this cultivates an attitude of nurture and worship. Nurturing allows members to not only get to know one another better, but it lays the foundation and vision for the group to help people get connected to God. Doing life together is an amazing experience and this sense of community is hardwired into humanity. God created His children with this desire to love and be loved by. As small groups develop times of fellowship and walk through trials and circumstances, opportunities to pray and grow their faith are presented. As a result of answered prayers and faith in God’s plans, thanksgiving and praise are the appropriate response. Arnold demonstrates, “When enough people in a congregation start experiencing these worship moments, the entire church begins to change. Spiritual renewal that begins in groups can begin to create revival in the larger body of Christ.”[40] However, neglecting the power of worship is one of the main reasons Dempsey and Earley cite for groups failing to reach their full potential, stressing, “Worship is a moral obligation and a natural response to the absolute worth of God. Worship completes us, is transforming, puts life back into perspective, and intensifies the presence and therefore the activity of God.”[41] Dempsey and Earley could not be more correct on the power of prayer, as they illustrate, “God often manifests His presence in proportion to our expressed recognition of our need and love for Him.”[42]

HOW TO MULTIPLY SMALL GROUPS

When groups begin to reach outward through acts of service and evangelism, they reach their full potential. As Arnold explains, “One of the inherent weaknesses in any small grouping of people is the natural tendency to maintain an inward focus (care), ignoring the outward focus (service and evangelism)… [making] the outward focus the most difficult group discipline to cultivate.”[43] Arnold clarifies how evangelism then leads to both spiritual and numerical growth as healthy groups work to attach people deeply to their God and show them how to minister to the world. Ultimately, as Arnold explains, “Biblical evangelism is not a program but a person-to-person process of sharing the good news about forgiveness of sin and new life in Jesus. Because small groups are likely to be the most personal setting offered by a church, they are natural places for this kind of evangelism to take place.”[44]

HOW TO DEVELOP/TRANSITION TO SMALL GROUPS IN CHURCH

Dempsey provides eleven suggestions for churches trying to develop or transition to being a church “of” or that “is” small groups: First, the leaders must search the Scriptures and come up with a group philosophy rooted in the Great Commission and Great Commandment to make disciples, to gather together and study the Word, and to meet each others needs and the needs of others. The group must also focus on equipping the saints and growing up to be like Christ. Second, the group must make sure the senior pastor and leadership team share the same vision as the group. This is vital because if the group is not contributing to the vision and mission of the church, they are not truly a part of the church. Third, the group must adopt a model that fits who they are and this is done by engaging the culture, while also maintaining the principles of loving God, one another, and neighbors. Fourth, there must be continual leader training and each person in the group should be mentoring someone else how to do their job, so when the time comes for the group to split, there will people ready to assume leadership roles. Fifth, the group is ready to launch, so times, places, and curriculum must all be in place. Sixth, is growing the group by praying, inviting people and having good quality, which will ultimately lead to quantity. Seventh, is rewarding the right behavior by exhorting and pointing out when people are doing the right thing or go above and beyond expectations. Eighth, is over communicating because as Rick Warren says, “People are down on what they are not up on,” so small groups must continually communicate the why, the how, and the next steps. Ninth, is utilizing coaching structures and a great model to use is the 5X5 model, which spreads the load out amongst directors, overseers, and groups. Trying to do everything alone will always lead to burnout or moral failure, so making sure you have a strong team is vital to the success of small groups because groups are only as strong as their weakest link. Tenth, is pray before, during, and after all small groups because the enemy does not want small groups to thrive because individuals are most vulnerable when they are in isolation. Eleventh, is to see God’s glory. The Great Commission’s command is to make disciples and the one promise we find is when we are in the business of making disciples in small groups, Jesus promises to be there with us.[45]

CONCLUSION

This small group-training manual has shown the need for relationships and connectivity in the disciple making process, which makes the role of small groups a fundamental part of any successful church. By illustrating small group’s biblical foundation and by providing the necessary motivations for developing them, this manual can be utilized to become a church “of” small groups or a church that “is” small groups. With a clear understanding of a small group’s influence, vision, and mission being formulated, this manual has shown how to grow and multiply small groups and also how to recruit and develop group leaders.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Arnold, Jeffrey. The Big Book on Small Groups. Rev. ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Comiskey, Joel. Biblical Foundations for the Cell-Based Church: New Testament Insights for the 21st Century Church. Moreno Valley, CA: CCS Publishing, 2016.

Dempsey, Rod and Dave Earley. Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups. Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University Press, 2016.

Dempsey, Rod. “How to Develop Leaders,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Four Video Presentation, 6:35. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_364001_1&content_id=_17196596_1 (accessed June 5, 2017).

________. “How to Transition to a Small Group System.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Eight Video Presentation, 8:17. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_364001_1&content_id=_17196616_1 (accessed June 29, 2017).

________. “Small Group Outreach/Mission.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Six Video Presentation, 6:36. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_364001_1&content_id=_17196606_1 (accessed June 22, 2017).

________. “Transitioning to Small Groups.” DSMN 630, Course Content, Lecture Notes, Week Six: 1-3.

________. “Why Lead a Group.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 9:33. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_364001_1&content_id=_17196581_1 (accessed May 15, 2017).

Donahue, Bill and Russ Robinson. Building a Church of Small Groups. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.

House, Brad. Community: Taking Your Small Group Off Life Support. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2011.

Hull, Bill. Jesus Christ Disciple Maker. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1984.

Reeves, Josh. “10 Simple Ways to be Missional in Your City.” May 26, 2017. http://www.vergenetwork.org/2011/10/11/10-simple-ways-to-be-missional-in-your-city-part-1/ (accessed June 22, 2017).

_________. “25 Simple Ways to be Missional in Your Neighborhood.” May 26, 2017. http://www.vergenetwork.org/2011/08/23/25-simple-ways-to-be-missional-in-your-neighborhood/ (accessed June 20, 2017).

Swindoll, Chuck. Dropping Your Guard. Waco, TX: Word Incorporated, 1983.

Tunnell, Jeff. “Biblical Values and Time-tested Principles.” Joel Comiskey Group Website, http://joelcomiskeygroup.com/blog_2/2011/09/19/biblical-values-and-time-tested-principles-2/ (accessed May 22, 2017).

[1] Rod Dempsey and Dave Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups (Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University Press, 2016), 2.

[2] Bill Donahue and Russ Robinson, Building a Church of Small Groups (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 24.

[3] Dempsey and Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 2.

[4] Rod Dempsey, “Why Lead a Group,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 9:33. (accessed May 15, 2017).

[5] Dempsey and Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 10.

[6] Dempsey and Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 10.

[7] Jeffrey Arnold, The Big Book on Small Groups. Rev. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 18, 23-24.

[8] Bill Hull, Jesus Christ Disciple Maker (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1984), 235.

[9] Chuck Swindoll, Dropping Your Guard (Waco, TX: Word Incorporated, 1983), 22.

[10] Rod Dempsey, “Biblical Foundations,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 7:58. (accessed May 22, 2017).

[11] Dempsey and Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 26.

[12] Jeff Tunnell, “Biblical Values and Time-tested Principles,” Joel Comiskey Group Website, http://joelcomiskeygroup.com/blog_2/2011/09/19/biblical-values-and-time-tested-principles-2/ (accessed May 22, 2017).

[13] Tunnell, “Biblical Values and Time-tested Principles.”

[14] Joel Comiskey. Biblical Foundations for the Cell-Based Church: New Testament Insights for the 21st Century Church (Moreno Valley, CA: CCS Publishing, 2016), 82.

[15] Rod Dempsey, “Transitioning to Small Groups,” DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Six: 1.

[16] Dempsey and Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 182.

[17] Rod Dempsey, “Transitioning to Small Groups,” DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Six: 2.

[18] Dempsey and Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 183.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Rod Dempsey, “Transitioning to Small Groups,” DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Six: 2.

[21] Dempsey and Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 31-32.

[22] Rod Dempsey, “What is a Group,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Three Video Presentation, 7:08. (accessed June 2, 2017).

[23] Dempsey and Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 32.

[24] Ibid., 33.

[25] Rod Dempsey, “Transitioning to Small Groups,” DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Six: 2-3.

[26] Rod Dempsey, “Why Lead a Group,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 9:33. (accessed May 15, 2017).

[27] Dempsey and Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 115.

[28] Rod Dempsey, “Group Multiplication,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Seven Video Presentation, 5:57. (accessed June 25, 2017).

[29] Rod Dempsey, “How to Develop Leaders,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Four Video Presentation, 6:35. (accessed June 5, 2017).

[30] Dempsey and Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 66.

[31] Ibid., 67.

[32] Comiskey, Biblical Foundations for the Cell-Based Church, 121.

[33] Ibid., 126.

[34] Priscilla Romans 16:3; Mary 16:6; Junias 16:12; Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis 16:12; Julia 16:15

[35] Comiskey, Biblical Foundations for the Cell-Based Church, 185.

[36] Dempsey and Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 69.

[37] Ibid., 70.

[38] Arnold, The Big Book on Small Groups, 31.

[39] Ibid., 34.

[40] Arnold, The Big Book on Small Groups, 37.

[41] Earley and Dempsey, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 45-46.

[42] Ibid., 46.

[43] Arnold, The Big Book on Small Groups, 38.

[44] Arnold, The Big Book on Small Groups, 39.

[45] Rod Dempsey, “How to Transition to a Small Group System,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Eight Video Presentation, 8:17. (accessed June 29, 2017).

Is the Spiritual Gift of Tongues Still Available to the Church Today?

Pentecost Pic_Fire

Sadly, the very spiritual gifts and move of the Spirit that once drew the early church together are currently being used to drive a wedge between the universal church and various denominations of faith today. Thus, the focus of this paper is to demonstrate how the Holy Spirit continues to empower people through the spiritual gift of tongues. By examining what took place on the day of Pentecost, by analyzing Paul’s epistles and address to the church in Corinth, and comparing other uses of glossolalia, this paper will demonstrate the spiritual gift of tongues has not ceased. If the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues is still available to all followers of Christ to: edify the church, to build up the speaker’s spirit, to serve as a sign to unbelievers, and to bring glory to God, then all followers of Christ should seek the gift. Followers of Christ who possess the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues are better equipped to edify the church, themselves, and bring glory to God. Therefore, all Christians should seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues.

OT DEMONSTRATES HOLY SPIRIT RESTED ON SPECIFIC PEOPLE

In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit was not regular or consistently active, but He was certainly not random either. The Holy Spirit regularly occurred upon the transfer of leadership (Numbers 11:17, 25; Deuteronomy 34:9; 1 Samuel 10:9-10, 16:16 & 2 Kings 2:15-19), as a sign of authentication (1 Samuel 10:1; 2 Samuel 23:2), and for the empowerment of service (Exodus 28:31, 31:3, 35:31). The Holy Spirit would come upon prophets, priests, kings, and judges and some would be gifted with wisdom, military prowess, or strength, but many were also gifted with inspired utterance or prophecy.

Throughout the Old Testament, the Spirit would come “on” people, but in the New Testament, the Spirit would take up residence “in” the believer. Regarding the foreshadowing of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Isaiah 11:2 says, “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him;” Isaiah 42:1 says, “I will put My Spirit on Him;” and Isaiah 61:1 says, “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me.” The entire ministry of Jesus was Spirit-anointed, Spirit-led, Spirit-filled, and Spirit-empowered. Jesus would bring the new covenant referenced in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:14; 26-27. Here, the shift moves to the Spirit being “in” you, as an indwelling Spirit. Joel 2:28 prophesied, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” Since all the disciples and people gathered were already Christians with the Spirit already dwelling inside them, this reference by Peter only makes sense if the Spirit coming “on” them was to further equip them, as was the pattern in the Old Testament. In contrast to the Old Testament, the Spirit was now continuous and available to all, the transfer of leadership was from Jesus to the church, the authentication of God’s call was evidenced by the Spirit’s presence, it was observable by the wind, fire, and tongues, and it was functional, as three thousand people were added to their number that day. The gifts of the Spirit remain appropriate to the calling, and the gifts must always be viewed as tools and not trophies.

NT REVEALS HOLY SPIRIT DWELT INSIDE ALL BELIEVERS

How one reads the book of Acts dictates how he or she will understand the Bible as a whole. Some, such as cessationalists believe Acts was a historical document of the way the early church used to be, but if believers today do not hold the same power of those in Acts, which was prophesied about, (Joel 2:28; Luke 24:49; John 14:26) what power is available to believers today? Ultimately, Luke must be viewed as both a historian and a theologian and while some try to make the distinction between being baptized in the Holy Spirit and being Spirit-filled, Stephen Clark points out, “The Holy Spirit is a He, [so] we are talking about an experience that brings a relationship.”[1] Others, like extreme dispensationalists contend speaking in tongues ceased at the close of the New Testament canon, where they believe “perfection” came. However, this “perfection” and “change” being spoken of will only happen at resurrection when, “We shall see face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). As Howard Ervin asserts, “Until then, prophecy, tongues, and other gifts of the Spirit will still function through those who, in faith and obedience, are open to the Spirit’s enabling.”[2] On the Day of Pentecost, Peter, empowered by the Spirit, told the people to repent and be baptized and upon receiving forgiveness of their sins, they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Ervin illustrates, “To this promise, he added, ‘[It] is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call’ (Acts 2:38-39). [Therefore,] Spirit baptism is available to all today, since the call to salvation is still going forth wherever the gospel is preached.”[3] As a result of the events at Pentecost, three thousand Jews from all over received Christ and were baptized in the Holy Spirit, making them among the first converts who would carry the gospel message around the world. Clinton Arnold further shows how, “Peter, at this point, may not realize it, but the intent of the application of this promise is for Gentiles as well. God will show him this by a vision and by involving him in the conversion of the Gentile household of Cornelius (Acts 10). Paul will also apply this prophecy to the inclusion of Gentiles into the one body of Christ (Ephesians. 2:13).”[4]

In 1 Corinthians 12:7, Gordon Fee illustrates Paul is saying what each one is given in this case is not a gift, but a manifestation of the Spirit, so “One should not make too much of this change of words. The change reflects Paul’s own emphasis throughout these chapters, which is on the Spirit Himself, not on the ‘gifts’ as such. Thus each gift is a manifestation, a disclosure of the Spirit’s activity in their midst.”[5] Gaebelein further explains, “Paul goes on to declare that many spiritual gifts are given by the Spirit for the total good or profit of his church. Different gifts are given different people—not all have the same gift. The gifts given to each person are clearly intended to be used for the common good.”[6] While one would think Paul’s epistles would have much to say about Spirit baptism, this is not the case because it was something most first-century Christians had already experienced. However, Paul, in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 and Ephesians 1:13 does speak of a seal and a deposit. By putting His Spirit in believer’s hearts as a deposit, it can be seen as the first installment of something greater yet to come, which is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Paul Barnett demonstrates, “The ‘seal’ is nothing less than the Spirit Himself, by whom God has marked believers as His own ultimate possession.”[7]

In 1 Corinthians 14, Horton explains, “With love in mind, [Paul] goes on to give practical directions for the exercise of two spiritual gifts – tongues and prophecy… [Edification is the key.] Paul wanted to see the gifts manifest in such a way as to build the Church both spiritually and numerically.”[8] F. F. Bruce adds, “Paul did not rule out glossolalia as a phenomenon inspired by the Spirit but he was anxious to convince his Corinthian friends that there were other charismata which, while not so impressive as glossolalia, were much more helpful in building up the Christian fellowship.”[9] The power of speaking in tongues allows the Holy Spirit to use the speaker as a conduit reaching directly to the throne room because when a believer speaks in tongues, he or she speaks directly to God. The spiritual gift of tongues continue to baffle scientists due to MRI scans revealing the frontal lobe, where the speech and language center are located not being engaged when people speak in tongues.[10] This further demonstrates the Holy Spirit creates a direct pathway to God so the speaker can pray, praise, or express thoughts beyond the limits of a human’s finite understanding and inability to see all and know all.

THE CONTROVERSY OF PENTECOST AND SPIRITUAL GIFTS

At Pentecost, as Peter said, “This is now what the prophet Joel spoke,” Gaebelein shows, “God’s covenant people were primarily in view. Joel went on to point out that what the Lord intended is that His Holy Spirit would be poured out, not on selected individuals for a particular task, but on all believers, young and old, male and female alike, regardless of their status. It would be a time of renewed spiritual activity: of prophesying, of dreams, and of visions.”[11] As Peter quoted Joel 2:28; the outpouring of the Spirit predicted by Joel occurred on Pentecost. Acts becomes so much more than history here, as speaking in tongues was the sign of a new and mighty act of God. This is that and that which was is, so if God is truth and His Spirit speaks truth, why not ask for the fullness of His Spirit? Many reject Acts as grounds for theology or doctrine, but as Horton explains, “Luke uses history to present divine truth with Jesus as the center and the advancement of the church’s mission by the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit as an important theme.”[12] Luke saw the sign of the age to come being the presence of the Spirit. In the past, God’s Spirit was only available to prophets, priests, kings, and judges; however, Joel envisioned a time when the Spirit would be available to every believer. Ezekiel also spoke of an outpouring of the Spirit (Ezekiel 39:28, 29). With the coming of the Spirit, Luke uses a variety of terms to suggest a receiving and active taking of a gift (Acts 2:38); a falling upon (Acts 8:16; 10:44; 11:15); and a pouring out of the gift (Acts 10:45). Horton emphasizes, “With this variety of terms, it is impossible to suppose that the baptism is any different from the filling.”[13] These can also mean a continuous infilling of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2:2, Gaebelein explains, “In OT times, prophetic utterances were regularly associated with the Spirit’s coming upon particular persons for special purposes”[14] and as Bruce demonstrates:

They were all filled with the Holy Spirit. The spiritual baptism foretold by John and promised by the Lord were now an accomplished fact. Being filled with the Spirit was an experience to be repeated on several occasions, but the baptism in the Spirit, which the believing community now experienced, was an event, which took place once for all.[15]

In Christianity, cessationism is the doctrine that spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues, prophecy, and healing ended with the apostolic age. However, Jack Deere asserts, “The doctrine of cessationism did not originate from a careful study of the Scriptures. The doctrine of cessationism originated in experience.”[16] Many scholars trace this belief back to Augustine of Hippo, who in his homily The Epistle of Saint John, referred to the tongues at Pentecost as a sign “adapted to the time” that had passed away.[17] Despite this early belief, Eddie Hyatt demonstrates, “Augustine’s interest in the miraculous has led some writers to conclude correctly that, in later life, he changed his views on the miraculous ministry of the Holy Spirit.”[18] [19] Nevertheless, the seed was planted and many influential leaders of the time chose to adopt his earlier views. In many religious circles and academia, the spiritual gift of tongues is mocked and simply dismissed. Christopher Moody, professor of systematic theology at Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the world laughs as he tells his students to disregard the book of Corinthians because, “It is a book written to the black sheep of the church who had all sorts of problems and that tongues is not an ecstatic utterance, but merely babblings in one’s made-up private prayer closet language.”[20] While making doctrine out of only several verses goes against all hermeneutical practice, to say various chapters in Corinthians must be ignored because they teach about spiritual tongues being a private prayer language seems excessive and makes for bad theology. If anything, the decrease in the use of tongues is to be attributed to spiritual apathy and the institutionalization of the church following Constantine’s conversion in A.D. 312.

Gary McGee illustrates, “As Pentecostals affirmed the twofold usage of speaking in tongues, they struggled to articulate the way in which the gift of interpretation worked. They needed to distinguish the perceived personal function of tongues in the Lukan literature, from the Pauline.”[21] While Luke emphasized the Spirit baptism had occurred and remained in the life of the seeker, Paul taught it was a requirement that a manifestation of the gift of tongues in a church service needed interpretation. As a result, McGee demonstrates questions naturally arose: “Should the personal utterance of tongues be interpreted? Does the public use of the interpretive gift, expressed when people are gathered in worship, parallel the gift of prophecy in a way that makes their purposes virtually identical? The faithful generally answered, “yes” to both questions.”[22] Of the four types of tongues mentioned in the New Testament, two are for private and two are for public. The two private tongues are tongues for intercession (Romans 8:26-28) and tongues for personal prayer, which result in personal edification (1 Corinthians 14:4). The two public tongues are tongues for interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:5) and tongues as a sign to the unbeliever (1 Corinthians 13:22).

Stephen Chester addresses the issue of interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:20-25 asserting, “Tongues do serve as a sign for unbelievers in the straightforward sense that they alert the outsider to the presence of divine activity among the Corinthian believers [however,] from Paul’s perspective, they do not signify enough [since] tongues do not communicate the gospel.”[23] Paul states, “Tongues are a sign for unbelievers and prophecy is for believers, yet it is prophecy that converts the unbeliever and tongues that fail to do so.” Chester further concludes that the, “Examples seem to prove the opposite of what was stated in v. 22, and this exegetical puzzle has provoked much disagreement and considerable displays of exegetical gymnastics, [but] the solution to this puzzle is best pursued by focusing our attention on the reaction to hearing tongues of the outsider, described by Paul in v. 23.”[24]

Blaine Charette demonstrates “The presence of both the Holy Spirit and fire at Pentecost serves as a reminder that God’s activity is often a double-edged sword. This event marks a meaningful and complex moment in God’s program from which ensues both blessing and judgment.”[25] To this statement, one could argue one of the Holy Spirit’s main functions is to convict people of sin (John 16:8), so “Discussions of Pentecost that focus exclusively on the blessings of the occasion are not only one-sided, but run the risk of misrepresenting the role of the Spirit in the world and in the community of God’s people.”[26] Charette maintains:

The judgment in view is directed against those who fail to respond appropriately to the Word of God present in the redemptive revelation centered in Jesus. The positive response of obedient disciples results in their experience of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. At the same time, the language of another tongue that characterizes this experience serves to demonstrate the divine judgment that has come upon the disobedient.[27]

THE HOLY SPIRIT EQUIPPED EARLY CHURCH FOR MINISTRY

When looking at the role of the Holy Spirit in the Pentecostal Movement, Richard Bliese explains, how many facets of the Pentecostal Movement seem to create doctrinal anxiety, specifically: “The gift of tongues, a second baptism, private prophetic experiences, and the spirit-filled. Like those first congregations in Corinth, [many faiths] are a divided community when it comes to the experience of the Holy Spirit, yearning both for the fullness and freedom of the Spirit and yet scared that the Spirit’s work will lead to serious mistakes and communal chaos.”[28] Paul instructs the Romans the final ministry of the Spirit is intercession by asserting, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Romans 8:26). Robert Brandt and Zenas Bicket seek to illustrate, “Never is a believer more effective and assured than when praying by virtue of the indwelling Spirit… The Spirit joins us in intercession to fashion prayer that cannot be grasped by human understanding… Just as Christ intercedes in heaven for the child of God (Romans 8:34), the Holy Spirit intercedes within the believer on earth.”[29] The word “συναντιλαμβάνεται” or “sunantilambanetai” is an interesting word, which means “joins in to help” or “to come to the aid to.” The only other mention of the word for “help” occurs in Luke 10:40. In this passage Gaebelein illuminates, “Martha had more than she could handle in the preparation of the meal and asked the Lord to bid her sister Mary come to her aid. Everything that is said relates to the activity of the Spirit on our behalf, culminating in the declaration that He intercedes for the saints.”[30] This is a perfect representation of what the indwelling presence of the Spirit does and A. C. George further explains, “To argue that Charismatic gifts were necessary only for the first century church and that they are not needed today in our individual and corporate worship is contrary to the teachings of Scripture, as well as the experience of millions of Pentecostal and Charismatic believers who are living in all continents of the world.”[31]

When looking at the gift of tongues as a prayer language, J. Ford Massingberd illustrates, “The gift of tongues is essentially a gift of prayer, especially of praise and love. Usually the mind is not active but the prayer is one of simple, loving regard – often accompanied by the experience of God’s presence.”[32] This tracks with spiritual gift’s primary function being bringing unity and love within the church, so “To see why the gift of tongues may be productive of ‘touches of infused contemplation’ and contribute to the building up of spiritual characteristics, one may measure the constructive power of love in the gift of tongues against the destructive, demolishing power of the tongue.”[33] “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Proverbs 18:21). Anything God has established, Satan will always try to destroy, counterfeit, or pervert, so the spiritual gift of tongues must always be held to a high standard.

SPEAKING IN TONGUES IS NORMAL, BUT NOT NORMATIVE

Russell Spittler captures the tension over the debate when he wrote, “Tongues is a broken speech for a broken body of Christ till perfection comes.”[34] What God meant to bring unity and love into the body of Christ has caused division. Frank Macchia demonstrates how this statement “Falls like a bombshell on one-sidedly triumphalistic Pentecostal spiritualties. In this weak groaning of glossolalia, we already gain a foretaste of eschatological transcendence and bridge-crossing as we flow from ourselves to others. Tongues symbolize this self-transcendence and bridge-crossing.”[35] If Scripture is not available to determine what is normative, the question then becomes, “Do we allow experiential evidence to take precedence in places where Scripture is silent?” Ultimately, the debate over the speaking in tongues being the initial physical evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit raises a bigger issue for those who do not hold to this position. The larger question being raised is, “Does the baptism in the Holy Spirit happen at conversion or after conversion.” It is this writer’s belief there are two distinct baptisms: one which happens at the moment of salvation, and a second infilling that empowers the believer to fulfill the Great Commission. Taking narratives and making them normative can be dangerous, so the goal must always be to understand the narrative in the context of redemptive history. While mighty moves of God have happened without the presence of speaking in tongues, experiential displays of the Holy Spirit, like the Pentecostal Azusa Street Revival in 1906 cannot be ignored either.

Anthony Palma lists three reasons God ordained glossolalia for the Day of Pentecost: “First, it was a new thing signaling a new era; second, it drew attention to the Great Commission to spread the gospel to all nations; and third, he who speaks in a tongue edifies himself.”[36] Bruce demonstrates how, “Paul insists that it is not the phenomenon of ‘tongues’ or prophesying in itself that gives evidence of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit, but the actual content of the utterances.”[37] In Ephesians 5:18, Gaebelein shows the theological implications of “be filled” plerousthe, “Are crucial for a biblical doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The imperative makes it clear that this is a command for all Christians. The present tense rules out any once-for-all reception of the Spirit but points to a continuous replenishment. Nor does it appear that Paul is urging his readers to enter into a new experience. Rather, he is inviting them to go on as they began.”[38]

Clark Pinnock also illuminates, “The gift of speaking in tongues is related to renewal but suffers from polemics. Some exaggerate its importance by claiming it as sole initial evidence of Spirit filling, while others, in reaction, refuse to take it seriously.”[39] On this assumption, Pinnock believes, “It is best to say that speaking in tongues is normal rather than normative, [since] the Spirit is given in baptism and is realized in experience throughout life.”[40] Harm Hollander shows; “In order to understand Paul’s different approaches to glossolalia and prophecy as spiritual phenomena in the context of the Christian gatherings, a detailed analysis of the text is appropriate. [Paul’s] starting-point is all things should be done for the edification of the body, and everything, including glossolalia and prophecy, should be done decently and in order.”[41] Hollander reveals Paul, “Argues that the gift of prophecy is to be preferred to the gift of glossolalia; whereas those who prophesy speak to other people for their edification, encouragement, and consolation; people who speak in a tongue only edify themselves. In fact, glossolalia does not benefit anyone else unless somebody is able to interpret these tongues.”[42] Paul’s main concern is utilization of the spiritual gifts. He seeks to demonstrate their primary purpose is to edify the church, to bring unity, and advance the gospel. However, since both prophecy and glossolalia are gifts of the Spirit, Paul urges the believers in Corinth to seek them, to not forbid speaking in tongues, to be eager to prophesy, and that all must be done in order.

A 21ST CENTURY PERSPECTIVE ON SPIRIT BAPTISM

Jacob Dodson illustrates, “For many Christians in Pentecostal churches in the United States today, the role of prophecy and speaking in tongues is ambiguous. While these two practices have been integral for the Pentecostal tradition since its origin at the Azusa Street Revival, a pervasive shift has taken place in Pentecostal piety and ecclesial life.”[43] In the year 2000 there were, worldwide, 66 million denominational Pentecostals, 176 million Charismatics, and more than 295 million independent neo-Charismatics. However, despite over one-third of the world’s full-time Christian workers (38%) being Pentecostal/Charismatics/Neo-Charismatics,[44] Dodson believes, “The apparent declining interest in prophecy and speaking in tongues in American Pentecostal churches is misleading because it does not adequately acknowledge ecumenical developments in the broader Pentecostal theology of charismatic gifts.”[45]

Jack Hayford believes that, “The experience of Spirit baptism grants one the capacity to pray in tongues but that there is no guarantee that someone would use that gift.”[46] Macchia then concludes, “There is strong evidence in early Pentecostal literature that, for the Pentecostals, the highest expression of the Spirit’s indwelling is the love of God [and] a number of authors have defined Spirit baptism as a baptism of divine love.”[47] Amos Young demonstrates how, “Baptism in the Holy Spirit as a metaphor for Christian salvation calls attention to the process of humans experiencing the saving graces of God along with the presence of crisis moments when such grace is palpably felt as transformative.”[48] While there is much debate over doctrine versus experience, it is hard to deny what takes place during revivals around the world. Del Tarr speaks of such an example in Burkina Faso, West Africa where the national pastors had prayed and fasted for weeks asking God for the Holy Spirit to be poured out. Tarr claims, “When God answered their prayers, meetings continued day and night for three months. Even Muslims were converted and baptized in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues and the church soon grew to over 400,000 members.”[49] Macchia would claim this clearly fits in with Luke’s “Assumption about tongues as the most significant sign of the bringing together of Jew and Gentile in the one mission of God.”[50]

CONCLUSION

It is tragic that the very things that drew the early church together are what cause such division today. There is no doubt people misuse spiritual gifts, much like those in Corinth did, but there are also those who doubt or quench the Holy Spirit’s gifts, essentially putting God in a box and limiting the impact He can have in and through a Christian’s life and ministry. To say there are no miraculous gifts today is to say that God is not supernatural. Only as a believer taps into the power of the Holy Spirit, first received at salvation, does he or she have the opportunity to experience that same Spirit overflow from within for the empowerment of ministry. The gifts of the Spirit bring unity and love, so to deny their use hinders God’s will, and dangerously approaches blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Paul affirms, “Do all people speak in tongues?” No. “Should all seek the gift?” Yes. As much as Christians should seek the gifts of the Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit, specifically love and self-control must also be sought (Galatians 5:22-23) because the church desperately must maintain a healthy balance between all of these gifts.

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[1] Stephen B. Clark, Confirmation and the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” (Pecos, NM: Dove Publishing, 1969), 11.

[2] Howard M. Ervin, “These Are Not Drunken as Ye Suppose” (Plainfield, NJ: Logos, 1968), 218-221.

[3] Ibid., 37-39.

[4] Clinton E. Arnold, ed., Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary on the New Testament – John, Acts (USA: Zondervan, 2002), 237.

[5] Gordon D. Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), 589.

[6] Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 10: Romans through Galatians (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 262.

[7] Paul Barnett, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 112.

[8] Stanley M. Horton. What the Bible Says about the Holy Spirit. Rev. ed. (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2007), 223-224.

[9] F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1977), 260.

[10] Benedict Carey, “A Neuroscientific Look at Speaking in Tongues,” The New York Times, November 7, 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/07/health/07brain.html (accessed July 1, 2017).

[11] Gaebelein, Frank E., ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 7: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985), 255.

[12] Stanley M. Horton, Perspectives on Spirit Baptism: 5 Views, ed. Chad Owen Brand (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2004), 56.

[13] Ibid., 59.

[14] Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 9: John and Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 271.

[15] F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 51.

[16] Jack Deere, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1993), 99.

[17] Augustine, The Epistle of Saint John, vol. 12 of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, 497-498.

[18] Eddie L. Hyatt, 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity: A 21st Century Look at Church History From a Pentecostal/Charismatic Perspective (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2002), 45.

[19] Francis Sullivan, Charism and Charismatic Renewal (Dublin, Scotland: Gill and MacMillan Publishing, 1982), 147.

[20] Christopher Moody, “Miraculous Gifts,” Filmed [2015], Liberty University Website, THEO 530, Systematic Theology II, Course Content, Week Three Video Presentation, 16:50. (accessed June 30, 2017).

[21] Gary B. McGee, “The New World of Realities in Which We Live: How Speaking in Tongues Empowered Early Pentecostals,” Pneuma: The Journal Of The Society For Pentecostal Studies 30, no. 1 (March 2008): 124. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed May 24, 2017).

[22] Ibid.

[23] Stephen J. Chester, “Divine Madness? Speaking in Tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:23,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 27, no. 4 (July 2016): 445-446. DOI: 10.1177/0142064X05055747 (accessed May 25, 2017).

[24] Chester, “Divine Madness?” 445.

[25] Blaine Charette, “Tongues as of Fire: Judgment as a Function of Glossolalia in Luke’s Thought,” Journal Of Pentecostal Theology 13, no. 2 (April 2005): 185. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 25, 2017).

[26] Ibid., 185.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Richard H. Bliese, “Speaking in Tongues and the Mission of God, Ad Gentes,” Journal Of Pentecostal Theology 20, no. 1 (2011): 38-47. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 24, 2017).

[29] Robert L. Brandt and Zenas J. Bicket. The Spirit Helps Us Pray: A Biblical Theology of Prayer (Springfield, MO: Logion Press, 2006), 270.

[30] Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 10: Romans, 96.

[31] A. C. George, Dimensions of Spirituality (Chennai, India: Bethesda Communications, 1997), 27.

[32] J. Ford Massingberd, “Toward a Theology of Speaking in Tongues,” Theological Studies 32, no. 1 (March 1971): 23, (accessed May 25, 2017).

[33] Ibid.

[34] Russell P. Spittler, “Glossolalia,” Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, ed. S. M. Burgess and G. B. McGee (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988), 341.

[35] Frank D. Macchia, Baptized in the Spirit: A Global Pentecostal Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 281.

[36] Anthony D. Palma, The Holy Spirit: A Pentecostal Perspective (Springfield, MO: Logion, 2001), 137.

[37] F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1977), 260.

[38] Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 11: Ephesians through Philemon (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 72.

[39] Clark H. Pinnock, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 172.

[40] Ibid., 172-173.

[41] Harm W. Hollander, “Prophecy and Glossolalia and Paul’s Concern for Order in the Christian Assembly,” The Expository Times 124, no. 4 (July 2012): 172-173. DOI: 10.1177/0014524612464189 (accessed May 25, 2017).

[42] Ibid., 172.

[43] Jacob D. Dodson, “Gifted for Change: the Evolving Vision for Tongues, Prophecy, and Other Charisms in American Pentecostal Churches,” Studies In World Christianity 17, no. 1 (January 2011): 50-51. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 24, 2017).

[44] D. B. Barrett and T. M. Johnson, “Global Statistics” in Stanley M. Burgess, ed. The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 285-287.

[45] Dodson, “Gifted for Change,” 50.

[46] Jack Hayford, The Beauty of Spiritual Language: My Journey Toward the Heart of God (Dallas, TX: Word, 1992), 95-98.

[47] Frank D. Macchia, Justified in the Spirit: Creation, Redemption, and the Triune God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 89.

[48] Amos Young, The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh: Pentecostalism and the Possibility of Global Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 105.

[49] Del Tarr, “The Church and the Spirit’s Power” in Benny C. Aker and Gary B. McGee, Signs and Wonders in Ministry Today (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1996), 9-10.

[50] Frank D. Macchia, “Groans Too Deep for Words: Towards a Theology of Tongues as Initial Evidence,” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 1, no. 2 (July 1998): 164.

Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference? By Phillip Yancey

Prayer_Does it Make Any Difference?

When asked why he writes about sensitive topics with irony and such honest skepticism, Phillip Yancey says, “I write books for myself, [since] I am a pilgrim, recovering from a bad church upbringing, searching for a faith that makes its followers larger and not smaller. I feel overwhelming gratitude that I can make a living writing about the questions that interest me. My books are a process of exploration and investigation of things I wonder about and worry about.”[1]

Yancey begins each day spending an hour reading God’s Word, praying, and meditating, which he claims helps align his will for the day with that of the Lord’s. While prayer is the intimate place where God and His children can meet, it also can also be an extremely frustrating and confusing place to be, unless the person praying has the right frame of reference and proper understanding of how prayer works. To address these issues, Yancey answers fundamental questions like: “Is God listening? Why should God care about me? If God knows everything, what is the point of prayer? How can I make prayer more satisfying? Why do so many prayers go unanswered? Do prayers for healing really matter? And does prayer change God?”[2] By studying all 650 prayers in the Bible, Yancey views prayer not so much as a way of getting God to do his will but as a way of being available to get in line with what God wants to accomplish on earth. This reading analysis will evaluate Yancey’s approach to the topic of prayer being a privilege and not a journey or duty and will define areas of personal application derived from the reading.

SUMMARY

Yancey breaks up Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference into five concise parts. In part one, Yancey demonstrates, “Every faith has some form of prayer… We pray because we want to thank someone or something for the beauties and glories of life, and also because we feel small and helpless and sometimes afraid. We pray for forgiveness, for strength, for contact with the One who is, and for assurance that we are not alone.”[3] Yancey approaches prayer from a universal perspective in its ability to “define who [and Whose] we are.”[4] For anyone searching to know God, prayer is the means, but as Yancey illustrates, “Everywhere, I encountered the gap between prayer in theory and prayer in practice.”[5] Time, skepticism, and prosperity are all reasons listed for why people believe there is power in prayer, but still choose not to engage in the practice. C. S. Lewis conveys, “The prayer preceding all prayers is, ‘May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.’” Many people associate prayer with confession of sins and guilt, but prayer is so much more than helpless cries to the Lord. God wants His children to come before Him as they are. Scriptures affirm, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16; Ephesians 3:13). This boldness and confidence when approaching the throne must also be done in humility because as Yancey explains, “It accurately reflects the truth… It means, that in the presence of God I gain a glimpse of my true state in the universe, which exposes my smallness, and at the same time it reveals God’s greatness.”[6] Being created in the image of God is one of the many reasons, as children of God; His followers should not be afraid or worry about being completely honest with Him. The Lord sees the heart of the matter and His heart also breaks when His children experience pain, rejection, loss, and every other emotion that attempts to make His children feel insignificant. While it is hard to approach prayer without some form of preconceived notions or preunderstanding, Yancey illuminates the most important thing is to make time for God because what one makes time for is most important to the person. Even if anger is what draws one to God, the main point is God is not being excluded from the individual’s life. Yancey demonstrates, “That God allows, even encourages, such gust of passion, which shows the strength of God’s alliance with us… From the Bible’s prayers, I learn that God wants us to keep it in the alliance, to come in person, even with our complaints.”[7]

After addressing how prayer gets the believer into a right perspective, part two addresses what the point of prayer is and establishes, “To discount prayer, to conclude that it does not matter, means to view Jesus as deluded.”[8] In this section, Yancey sets out to unravel the mystery of prayer by looking at unanswered prayers and explains, “For most of us prayer serves as a resource to help in a time of testing or conflict. For Jesus, it was the battle itself. Once the Gethsemane prayers had aligned Him with the Father’s will, what happened next was merely the means to fulfill it. Prayer mattered that much.”[9] After establishing there is power in prayer, Yancey addresses the difficult questions pertaining to unanswered prayers and whether or not prayers can move God to act. Yancey claims, “I cannot, nor can anyone else promise that prayer will solve all problems and eliminate all suffering. At the same time, I also know that Jesus commanded His followers to pray, certain that it makes a difference in a world full of opposition to God’s will… [However,] God often allows things to play out naturally.”[10] Yancey then compares and contrasts prayer being a wrestling match and prayer being a partnership with God, using the Patriarchs as primary examples.

Part three looks at the language of prayer, its hindrances, and various styles. Yancey says, “Even when prayer seems like a duty, like a homework assignment, we sustain the hope that it could grow into something more.”[11] Given the difficulty of prayer, Yancey attributes this to, “A media-saturated culture [that] conditions us to expect a quick fix to every problem.”[12] As Yancey tackles the language of prayers in the Bible, he demonstrates how the prayers being offered often elevated the needs of others above the one who was praying and demonstrated the Lord’s will being done. Next, he talks about the multiplicity of reasons why people do not pray: they feel unworthy, they are easily distracted, they are too concerned about doing it correctly, but as Yancey reminds the reader, “[Even when we do not know what to pray,] the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express”[13] (Romans 8:26-27).

Part four looks at prayer dilemmas and as Emily Dickinson wrote, “There comes an hour when begging stops, when the long interceding lips perceive their prayer is vain.” The first part of this section appears to be a continuation of the previous chapter on what to do when God is silent and it seems like one’s relationship with God is nothing more than two ships passing in the dark. While silence is definitely a dilemma, Yancey now looks specifically at unanswered prayers and whose fault it is. As Yancey demonstrates, “Unanswered prayer poses an especially serious threat to the faith of trusting children.”[14] When dealing with the inconsistency problem, Yancey provides multiple instances where God chose to act and answer the prayers of some, while not answering the prayers of others. The story of the couple from India who happened to be in separate towers in the World Trade Center on September 11th 2001 was a perfect illustration. They both prayed and somehow both made it down the stairwells before the towers collapsed, which so impressed them that they converted to Christianity and the husband became a full-time evangelist. Along with Yancey, this writer cannot help but think of the other three thousand people who died, many of whom were probably praying for the same safety and rescue.[15] This is just one more case that the Lord’s ways and thoughts are higher than mans. Another interesting point Yancey brings out is, “In answering prayers, God normally relies on human agents and in ministries and answered prayers, I learned that many began with a crisis of faith, and a crisis of prayer.”[16] Yancey then shows how sin and unforgiveness hinders prayers.

Part five investigates the practice of prayer and the necessity of making time to commune with God. Yancey clearly defines prayers ability to lift up one another’s burdens, provide peace, lighten one’s mood, and offer liberation from anxiety. Being faithful in prayer also leads to patience in God’s timing and His plan, which further results in perseverance. This section especially highlights how prayer is able to sustain the follower of Christ and deepen his or her relationship with God. One of the best quotes Yancey uses comes from F. B. Meyer who said, “The greatest tragedy in life is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer.” God is love and He wants the best for His children, so when a Christian intercedes on the behalf of another Yancey believes, “In short, prayer allows me to see others as God sees them (and me): as uniquely flawed and uniquely gifted bearers of God’s image. I begin seeing them through Jesus’ eyes, as beloved children whom the Father longs to embrace.” This observation was quite profound.

CRITIQUE

 The story of young Megumi being abducted by North Koreans was heart wrenching, but Yancey brilliantly uses this story to parallel what happened to Joseph, Daniel, Esther, and Paul who were aliens swept into a new and strange culture. Prayer for each of them served as a channel of faith and here, Yancey teaches the importance that prayer, “Becomes a realignment of everything, restoring the truth to the universe, and gaining a glimpse of the world through God’s eyes.”[17] Trusting God to use us however He sees fit is the key principle to be mindful of.

The story of Dovid Din of Jerusalem in The Hasidic Tales was also a great demonstration of God’s willingness to be there even in one’s anger. When he said, “All my life I have been so afraid to express my anger to God that I have always directed my anger at people who are connected with God. But until this moment I did not understand this.”[18] This illustration was profound as Reb Dovid instructed Dovid Din to follow him to the Wailing Wall near the ruins of the Temple. At this holy site, Reb instructed Dovid to express his anger toward God and Dovid, for more than an hour struck the wall of the Kotel with his hands and screamed from his heart. Shortly after, those screams turned to cries, which later turned to sobs, but ultimately became prayers/praise to the Lord. God would much rather His children express anger than shut Him out.

Yancey concludes, “I used to worry about my deficiency of faith. In my prayers, I expect little and seem satisfied with less. Faith feels like a gift that a person either has or lacks, not something that can be developed by exercise, like a muscle. My attitude is changing though, as I begin to understand faith as a form of engagement with God.”[19] When looking at what difference prayer makes, especially when people are facing tragedies and persecution, Yancey states, “We pray because against such forces we have no more powerful way to bring together the two worlds, visible and invisible.”[20] When answering whether prayer has the ability to change God, Yancey contrasts Origen’s view that prayer is in vain because God is changeless, to Calvinistic thought, which places its emphasis on God’s sovereignty shifting the focus of prayer from its effect on God to its effect on the person praying.[21] Yancey then uses Charles Finney’s model to resolve God’s unchanging qualities by illustrating, “God changes course in response to the sinner’s change in course, and does so because of those eternal qualities.”[22] While this book is an invitation to communicate with God the Father who invites His children into an eternal partnership through prayer, it seems Yancey is not afraid to ask the tough questions, but some of his questions are a bit lacking, when it comes to the answers or responses provided. While he undoubtedly answers some of the key questions about prayer, it seems he often lands somewhere in the middle of the two opposing views, leaving the conclusion up to the readers. Some may enjoy this style, but this writer would rather have a clear answer provided with biblical proof.

PERSONAL APPLICATION

Yancey calls the book of Psalms a virtual practicum in prayer with 150 psalms, so that when he is feeling inarticulate before God, he turns to this ready-made prayer. This is a great idea, especially since Psalms covers virtually everything from Genesis to Revelation and has prayers for practically every emotion and situation imaginable. Traveling to Israel last year and visiting the Wailing Wall was a profound experience, but to imagine only praying specific prayers from the Torah seemed to put God in a box. I agree with Yancey on using the psalms as a place to go to engage in prayer, but this writer also believes in the importance of allowing the Holy Spirit to intercede through us, just as Christ intercedes on our behalf to the Father.

The story about Karl, the lieutenant colonel from the Air Force really hit home with me. I too had dreams of entering the service, but was in a very similar accident breaking multiple discs in my neck and lower back. It took five surgeries to put me back together again, but my dreams had been shattered; or so I thought. I never blamed God or the individual who hit me, but I could not see the future playing out how I had envisioned it. The accident happened on the very day I received my ministerial credentials, so it was almost as if the enemy was trying to take me out before I could start my ministry. I spent much time in prayer as I was confined to the bed and began to commit whatever my future held to serving the Lord. I am thrilled to say, God has healed me and opened some doors I never thought would be opened and by this time next year, I should be an Army Chaplain. Going through five surgeries and never-ending physical therapy could have easily crushed my spirits and left me in despair, but I used ever encounter I had to tell people all about the awesome things God was doing in my life. I was blessed to have amazing neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons, but even they are amazed at my recovery and see it as a miracle. It is common to pray for things people want, but in part five, Yancey tells the story of how, “C. S. Lewis prayed every night for the people he was most tempted to hate, with Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini heading the list. Lewis did this because he realized Christ died for them as much as for him and that he himself was not so different from those ghastly creatures.”[23] This is powerful and if we truly believe in the power of prayer, we must engage in it continuously, especially for our leaders and those who oppose Christianity and/or the nation of Israel.

CONCLUSION

Yancey’s approach to prayer clearly establishes even when one might think he or she is in control they are not. This realization may be frightening for some, but for anyone who embraces the intimacy of prayer with the Father will gladly surrender complete control to His perfect will and timing because they know His ways and thoughts are far above their own. This book would be well suited for anyone looking to have a deeper understanding of prayer and the impact it has on the believer’s life. As Henri Nouwen illustrates, “The paradox of prayer is that it asks for a serious effort while it can only be received as a gift. We cannot plan, organize, or manipulate God; but without a careful discipline, we cannot receive Him either.” In the end, when someone does not know what to do, they should pray, and even when they know what to do, they should still pray. Prayer is the believer’s lifeline to God and, “Prayer that is based on relationship and not transaction may be the most freedom-enhancing way of connecting to a God whose vantage point we can never achieve and can hardly imagine.”[24] Just as the Spirit intercedes through the believer, Jesus is seated at the right hand of God interceding on the believer’s behalf when prayers are being lifted up.

Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference? By Phillip Yancey, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 2006, 359 pp. $16.99 (Paperback).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Phillip Yancey Website, http://philipyancey.com/about (accessed June 27, 2017).

Yancey, Phillip. Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 2006.

[1] Phillip Yancey Website, http://philipyancey.com/about (accessed June 27, 2017).

[2] Phillip Yancey Website, http://philipyancey.com/books/prayer-does-it-make-any-difference (accessed June 27, 2017).

[3] Phillip Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 2006), 13.

[4] Ibid., 13

[5] Ibid., 15.

[6] Ibid., 37.

[7] Ibid., 68.

[8] Ibid., 80.

[9] Ibid., 86.

[10] Ibid., 87.

[11] Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference, 158.

[12] Ibid., 159.

[13] Ibid., 193.

[14] Ibid., 216.

[15] Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference, 221.

[16] Ibid., 242 & 244.

[17] Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference, 29.

[18] Ibid., 68.

[19] Ibid., 98.

[20] Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference, 118.

[21] Ibid., 131.

[22] Ibid., 134.

[23] Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference, 311.

[24] Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference, 55.

Can You Be Gay and Christian?

Westboro Protest

Michael Chiavone is correct in his assertion that the ecclesiology of the 21st century looks much different than centuries of past, largely in part due to the success and increase of alternative church’s arrangements. Through the use of technology, specifically multi-site and streaming churches, it is now extremely challenging to offer an all-encompassing universal definition of the church. At the forefront of controversial topics regarding the church’s relationship to the state is homosexual marriage, which continues to be an area of much debate. This topic leaves many people with a poor perception of the church, and in many settings serves to demonstrate more what the church is against than what she is for. As the boundaries of religious freedom continue to be tested, Michael Brown offers perhaps the most appropriate response to the question, “Whether one can truly follow Jesus and practice homosexuality at one and the same time” (Brown 2014, xi).

In chapter ten, Brown attempts to balance grace with the truth of God’s Word, illustrating, for “gay Christians,” there is often an experiential claim associated with their argument, which attempts to justify the homosexual practice being perfectly acceptable because a committed relationship exists between two individuals. The biblical response recognizes it is possible to be a devoted follower of Christ, while also having same-sex attractions, as long as those thoughts and attractions are not affirmed. The problem arises when those attractions are acted upon making it then impossible to live a holy life.

To God, sin is sin, but humanity takes the process one step further and ranks various sins, much like crimes and classifies them as misdemeanors or felonies, with each having various degrees of offense and penalties or judgments. For many Christians, the very thought of being gay or acting upon those attractions would be equated to a crime of premeditated murder, but to God, homosexuality is no different than idolatry. Idolatry, by definition is anything placed before God in one’s life, and this can be a person, place, or thing that comes before God. In the Old Testament, certain sins required specific sacrifices and some sins affected the individual and/or the community. To advance this thought, a few of the texts that speak of homosexuality use the term תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה (tôʿēbâ) to mean abomination, which indicates, “That these sins are not simply something that God peevishly objects to, but that produces revulsion in Him” (Erickson 2013, 526). The result of any sin is separation from God, but Erickson furthers this thought and illuminates, “We are not simply sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners [and] sin is any lack of conformity, active or passive, to the moral law of God. This may be a matter of act, of thought, or of inner disposition or state. [Ultimately,] sin is failure to live up to what God expects of us in act, thought, and being” (Erickson 2013, 528-529). Jesus, in Matthew 5:28 clearly establishes the mere thought of a sinful act is the same as committing it, which demonstrates the effect desires have over the propensity to sin.

In recent years and through various human rights groups, the paradigm now perpetuated is God versus gays, meaning homosexuals must either be condemned or affirmed. Currently, as this assignment is being written, members of the Westboro Baptist Church are across the street waving “God hates fags” posters in the air as the people are gathering in the church for Sunday morning service. A much more accurate sign should read, “God hates sin.” Just as sinners should not be defined by his or her past/present sin, the universal church should not be defined by the actions of extremists like those outside telling homosexuals a fiery-hell awaits them. Brown demonstrates, “The problem is many gay-affirmative people will say their sexuality is ‘who they are’ and ‘essential to their being’ and ‘very core’” (Brown 2014, 205-206). Humanity’s fallen nature leads to one’s inclination to sin, so as Brown suggests, “Rather than saying, ‘I am gay, and Jesus died to help me fulfill my sexual identity,’ they should say, ‘I struggle with the sin of homosexuality, but by God’s grace I will not be defined by it or ruled by it’” (Brown 2014, 209).

Homosexuals should not be defined by their actions, nor should their desires enslave them to feeling as though change is impossible. Brown asserts, “You can [abstain from sex,] be single, but you cannot live without God” (Brown 2014, 221). Instead of focusing on one’s sexuality or allowing sin to define someone, the emphasis must always be trying to redirect the individual’s focus back to Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior. Some churches shun people for being gay, while others make it known gay people are not welcome, but acting on homosexual desires, in God’s eyes, is no different than gossipers who gossip or thieves who continue to steal. The right does not belong to humans to say homosexuals are not welcome in the house of God and it surely does not instruct followers of Christ to treat homosexuals with disdain and demoralizing insults. When God says something is wrong, and despite His warning and commandment, the individual still chooses to sin, the body of Christ should come alongside and stake themselves next to the lost sheep until Jesus Christ, through the transforming work of the Holy Spirit produces such a radical encounter, that the person repents and turns away from a life of sin. This “God, and by default the church versus homosexuals” rhetoric must stop. We all are children of the Most High God, and Jesus Christ gave His life for everyone, regardless of what sin someone struggles with.

Another major issue that must be addressed is whether homosexuals should be ordained or serve in a ministerial capacity. Millard Erickson asserts, “While a homosexual orientation combine with a celibate lifestyle, does not seem to be sinful, the consistent biblical proscriptions of homosexual practice (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:27-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10) seem to disqualify practicing homosexuals from holding such positions” (Erickson 2013, 1007-1008). Reading about Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Church, and home of the largest “gay Christian” denomination was bizarre. This lifestyle choice was very reminiscent of the book of Judges, where each person did what was right in his or her own eyes. Perry’s early homosexual childhood encounter was surely traumatizing, but as Brown proposes, “Could you imagine a heterosexual Christian leader describing his first youthful sexual encounter with a little girl as being an ‘innocent time of religious and sexual discovery’” (Brown 2014, 215). While the Bible does say, “It is not good that the man should be alone,” this does not justify homosexual relationships. God promises to neither leave nor forsake His children, just as He promises in Him one will find escape from the corruption of the world and everything needed to live a life of godliness. Brown rightly concludes, “[God] will either satisfy you with His presence, He will provide you with godly friends and companions, or He will help to bring change in your attractions, so you can marry a fitting, lifelong companion” (Brown 2014, 219). The message of the gospel must not be watered down, but the church needs to embrace people despite the presence of sin. If church were only for those without sin in their life, the chairs or pews would be empty, so to cast judgment on homosexuals, and not others living in sin is hypocritical and ungodly. So, can you be gay and be a Christian? In this writer’s opinion, yes, but only by recognizing those attractions being contrary to God’s design and resisting them as sinful” (Brown 2014, 213). Being a disciple of Christ begins with dying to oneself daily and denying sinful desires because being gay and a Christian does not work when those sinful attractions are acted upon. God loves us just the way we are, but He loves us too much to leave this way, regardless of what area of sin attempts to sever the relationship between God and His children. If we, the church, the body of Christ are not a part of the solution, then we are a part of the problem and this is not a place anyone wants to find themselves when he or she must give an account to God during final judgment. Love, acceptance, and forgiveness must be the motivation to reach those in need of God’s grace, mercy, and truth.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brown, Michael L. Can You Be Gay and Christian? Responding With LOVE & TRUTH to Questions About HOMOSEXUALITY. Lake Mary, FL: FrontLine Publishing, 2014.

Elwell, Walter A. ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013.

Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ – Book Critique

Believer's Baptism

Shawn D. Wright, professor of theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and member of the Evangelical Theological Society[1] teams up with Thomas R. Schreiner, Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary[2] to co-edit a compilation of scholarly and theological essays on the history and doctrine of baptism. Using exegesis of Scripture, a detailed history of the theology and practices of early church, and with the ultimate goal of restoring baptism to its rightful place as a central liturgical act of Christian worship, the authors set out to advocate credobaptism (the doctrine that Christian baptism should be reserved solely for believers in the Lord,) over the beliefs and practices of Reformed paedobaptists (those who practice infant baptism).[3] This critique will largely agree with the author’s conclusions that credobaptism is biblically supported and will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses behind the authors’ claims, which assert baptism must be reserved strictly for believers and how baptism remains relevant to the church today.

SUMMARY

The main premise of Believer’s Baptism is to clearly articulate the history and practice of baptism and to affirm: who should be baptized, when he or she should be baptized, and what the act of baptism actually accomplishes in the life of the believer. Schreiner and Wright set out, with the aid of an additional eight highly esteemed Baptist theologians and scholars to demonstrate baptism should only be reserved for those who have believed, repented, and maintained his or her faith. Each of the author’s conclusions and findings presented are rooted in rich biblical truth, and offer practical application for the believer today, while also presenting potential reasons for how and why paedobaptists came to believe infant baptism should be linked to the covenant relationship, specifically found in the Old Testament, and early church practices.

Schreiner and Wright further seek to show how paedobaptists associate the covenant of grace with the Abrahamic Covenant, in an attempt to reduce the Abrahamic Covenant to its most basic spiritual components. While this argument presents no middle ground, Schreiner and Wright successfully demonstrate baptism must be reserved for believers who have received Christ as his or her personal Savior, have turned away from a life of sin, and seek to make a public profession of faith, thus fulfilling the command found in Scripture. While the doctrine of baptism has increasingly become a topic of debate in denominational circles, the secondary objective of Schreiner and Wright is to provide pastors and leaders with a practical resource when faced with many of the questions surrounding the practice of baptism e.g., Does baptism save the believer? Does baptism forgive one’s sins? Does baptism have an age requirement? And how should one respond when challenged with any of the above questions?

A tertiary goal of Schreiner and Wright is to cultivate a greater sense of unity within the body of Christ. To many, how, when, or why someone should be baptized may seem like a minor issue but as Timothy George demonstrates, “Baptism is important precisely because it is tied to the gospel, and to the saving work that Christ accomplished in His death and resurrection.”[4] Within Christianity, there are doctrinal hills worth dying on and the practice of baptism is one of those hills, as Paul Jewett demonstrates, “To baptize infants apart from faith threatens the evangelical foundations of evangelicalism.”[5] Believer’s Baptism combines biblical exegesis, history and theology, and practical application to provide a powerful argument for credobaptism.

CRITICAL INTERACTION

Beginning with the Gospel accounts, Andreas Köstenberger provides concise historical context into the practice of credobaptism. While there are not a great deal of passages that deal with baptism, the ones which do clearly establish the rite of baptism: “Is designed for believers who have repented of their sin and have put their faith in God and in His Christ, is an essential part of Christian discipleship, most likely consisted of immersion in water, and presupposes spiritual regeneration as a prevenient and primary work of God in and through the Holy Spirit.”[6] The Gospels each clearly demonstrate the believer’s baptism is the intended teaching and A.T. Robertson further demonstrates, “the Gospels provide no evidence or support for the baptism of infants, the notion of baptismal regeneration, nor does the principle of believer’s baptism enunciated in the Gospels allow for such a practice.”[7]

Robert H. Stein then analyzes Luke and Acts, illustrating God’s intimate role in the process and counters claims of baptismal regeneration and belief that the act of baptism forgave sins. Despite household conversions and baptisms taking place, Stein answers the question, exactly who can be baptized, by asserting “Those baptized… have heard the gospel preached, as responding with repentance and/or faith, and proceeding on their own to the place of baptism.”[8] Robertson further illustrates, “Baptism, as taught in the New Testament, is the picture of death and burial to sin and resurrection to new life, a picture of what has already taken place in the heart, not the means by which spiritual change is wrought. It is a privilege and duty, not a necessity. It is a picture that is lost when something else is substituted in its place.”[9] Stein adequately advances the position for credobaptism, but in a climate where many congregations are seeking to go back to an early church model, some practical and modern-day application of the credobaptism principles would have been a nice companion to this chapter.

Next, Schreiner examines the epistles and reveals how, “Baptism relates to washing, to sealing, to redemptive history, and [answers] whether baptism should be confined to believers.”[10] Schreiner’s main emphasis is on the act of baptism only being for those who have confessed his or her sins and trusted in Christ for salvation. Paul, in Ephesians 4:5 asserts there is one baptism, which unifies all believers. Paul’s emphasis here is to bring balance to the rite of baptism, with his primary focus being on unity within the body of believers, while also making it known baptism is not restricted from any ethnic or social group. Galatians 3:27 is a prime example, illustrating, “Believers who are baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” This verse denotes the close connection between one’s faith and the practice of baptism. Ronald Fung further demonstrates, “Baptism is here regarded as the rite of initiation into Christ, that is, into union with Christ, or, what amounts to the same thing, of incorporation into Christ as the Head of the new humanity.”[11] These passages counter the singular claim of paedobaptists regarding God’s grace and illuminates how God’s grace must be combined with the human response.

Despite there being no record or command of infant baptism in the canon of Scripture, Stephen J. Wellum explains, “At the heart of the doctrine of infant baptism is the argument it is an implication drawn from the comprehensive theological category of the covenant of grace.”[12] To address this claim, Wellum looks at the relationship between the covenants and explains, “[Only] if the interpretation of the covenant of grace, along with its understanding of the continuity between Israel and the church can be maintained do we have a strong case for infant baptism.”[13] Despite paedobaptists’ argument for infant baptism, Wellum verifies the key problem is rooted in a, “Failure to understand correctly the proper relationship between the biblical covenants, [since] a truly covenantal approach to Scripture… demands an affirmation of believer’s baptism.”[14] Another important contribution is Wellum’s response to paedobaptist assertion that, “Circumcision and baptism carry essentially the same spiritual meaning and that in the new covenant era baptism is the replacement of circumcision as a covenant sign.”[15] Ultimately, baptism and circumcision carry two very different meanings and Paul could not be clearer that circumcision was no longer a covenant sign. Wellum rightly concludes, “[Baptism] signifies a believer’s union with Christ, by grace through faith, and all the benefits that result from that union.”[16] Wellum’s contribution for the defense of credobaptism was a key component.

Steven A. McKinion looks to the early church fathers and patristic writings to conclude, “Baptism had less to do with the age of the baptized person than with the role of repentance, profession of faith, and entrance into the full life of the church.”[17] The main issues facing those in the third and fourth century were the high infant mortality rate and debate over whether infants needed forgiveness of sins. Despite these issues, McKinion demonstrates why early church fathers like Tertullian rejected the defense of infant baptism on two counts: “First, infants are innocent, guiltless, and not in need of forgiveness; second, faith alone is sufficient for salvation. [Thus,] baptism should follow faith, and since young children do not need forgiveness and cannot possess faith, baptism is unnecessary.” Despite few supporters, the early centuries of the church are often cited in defense of paedobaptist belief, predominantly since it was the practice of some churches, but it was never universally practiced and those in favor of paedobaptism seemed to have a more refined view on the doctrine of original sin.

With the rise of Anabaptists, Jonathan Rainbow contrasts Ulrich Zwingli and Balthasar Hubmaier’s views explaining, “For Zwingli, baptism was a mere sign, [while] for Hubmaier it was more than a sign. [Ultimately,] Baptists consider, on the basis of an open and personal confession, that the person coming to the water believes in Jesus Christ, and that there is an inner reality to which baptism corresponds… This was the heart of Reformation Anabaptists…”[18] Rainbow offers profound insight between Zwingli and Hubmaier’s viewpoints by illustrating, “There is a fear of allowing water baptism to come too close to the work of grace in the sinner’s heart; there are raised eyebrows and puzzled looks at the New Testament texts that closely associate baptism with salvation; and many would rather not baptize at all than leave room for the impression that baptism is an integral part of the conversion experience.”[19] This assertion is exactly what paedobaptists have done in their departure from biblical doctrine. Making too much or too little of baptism are both dangerous roads to travel, so Rainbow is correct in his word of caution. With this word of warning, Timothy George highlights, “It is important to [remember] and recognize that in the Reformation tradition of believers, baptism was forged in the context of persecution and martyrdom.”[20] Looking back in time at the formation of doctrine and tradition, it can be easy to forget exactly what was going on at that time to warrant the beliefs and practices, which resulted. Rainbow does a great job advancing the credobaptism position in this section.

Shawn D. Wright presents the logic of Reformed paedobaptists in an attempt to examine and understand their logic. Calvin, Murray, and Marcel all hold to the covenant of grace, but as Wright demonstrates, “Their biblical exposition is oriented toward the Old Testament with a lack of attention to the New Testament’s teaching. [Further,] by using the Westminster Confession of Faith as evidence for infant baptism… it is neither ‘good’ nor a ‘necessary’ deduction.”[21] Each of these Reformed paedobaptists seemed to believe God regenerates the infant at baptism, but without faith, this process cannot begin. Another doctrinal error in this vein of theology occurs by paralleling circumcision with baptism, which Wellum has previously covered in depth.

Duane A. Garrett then looks at the Israelite traditions and shows Meredith Kline’s “Error is in taking Old Testament events that are retrospectively and metaphorically called ‘baptism’ and enlisting them as guides to the ritual mode of actual baptism. [Ultimately,] by interpreting baptism under the rubric of a suzerainty treaty means that a Christian must require all persons under his authority to be baptized, [which] validates the Constantinian vision of Christianity.”[22] In Cornelis Bennema’s critique of Believer’s Baptism, he cites, “Kline’s defense of paedobaptism being closely connected with the idiosyncratic theology of the covenant and whenever historic divergences exist within the church, it is best to engage the arguments that have historically been most influential and decisive; this can hardly be said to hold true for Kline’s formulations.”[23]

Baptism was a source of division amongst early Christians, as Ardel B. Caneday explains, by using Paul’s letters to the churches at Corinth and Galatia to show, “All who have put on Christ with all who are baptized into Christ, as though the two are fused into one. To be baptized into Christ by submission to the symbolic foot washing called for by the gospel is to be clothed with Christ Jesus.”[24] Paul seems to be equating those who are baptized into Christ Jesus share in part with the redeeming effects of His death. Caneday further demonstrates, “While Paul warns the Galatians that submission to the ritual act of circumcision would be to sever oneself with Christ (5:2-6), he identifies Christian baptism as the ritual act that marks one as clothed with Christ.”[25] This is a significant contribution to the difference between the ritual acts.

In the context of the local church, Mark E. Dever illustrates, “Only forty percent of baptisms in cooperating churches are ‘first time’ baptisms of converts, [attributing this trend to:] confusion, ignorance, prejudice, and a misplaced and distorting cultural conservatism that besets most churches today in their practice of baptism.”[26] Dever successfully brings together the culmination of previous chapters to answer questions like: Who should baptize? How is baptism to be done? Who is to be baptized? When are baptisms to be done? And should unbaptized individuals be excluded from: the Lord’s Supper, church membership, and should baptisms from other churches be accepted. Bennema adds, “Though it may well be that many Reformed churches have not lived up to their covenant theology, it is hardly the case that this theology diminishes the obligations of faith and repentance in respect to the children of believers. On this point, the claims of several authors in this volume seem to be overstated.”[27] Overall, the predominant Baptist background of the authors limits the scope of this work. Had other denominations of faith been included, the book would become more relevant to a larger number of people, but Schreiner and Wright are quite clear their goal was simply to promote credobaptism over paedobaptism, and this goal was adequately accomplished.

CONCLUSION

Schreiner and Wright have also clearly established baptism requires the public profession of faith, which acknowledges one’s salvation and honors Christ’s atoning sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection. In a time where the world seems to know more what the church is against than what she is for, Believer’s Baptism is a treasure-trove of wisdom and practical application, which has the ability to bridge the gap and produce unity and love within the body of Christ. Baptism plays a pivotal role in the fulfillment of the Great Commission and is vital in advancing the kingdom of God. Ultimately, God wants His followers to live in unity and love, but as Timothy George demonstrates, “Unity in love must also be unity in truth, else it is not genuine unity at all.”[28] Upon this premise, Schreiner and Wright are to be commended for producing a work that brings clarity to the practice of credobaptism over paedobaptism and this work would be well suited for anyone interested in understanding not only the history of baptism but also how this practice should be applied to the church today.

 Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ. Edited by Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, Series Edited by E. Ray Clendenen, B&H Academic Publishing Group, 2006, 364 pp. $29.99 (Hardcover).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bennema, Cornelis P. A Review of Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ., by Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, ed. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 52, no. 3 (September 2009): 655-61, (accessed June 12, 2017).

Elwell, Walter A. ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013.

Fung, Ronald Y. K. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Galatians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.

George, Timothy. “The Reformed doctrine of believers’ baptism.” Interpretation 47, no. 3 (July 1993): 242+. Academic OneFile (accessed June 12, 2017).

Jewett, Paul K. Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978.

Robertson, A. T. “Baptism, Baptist View,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Edited by James Orr (Chicago: IL, Howard-Severance Co., 1915), 1:416-417.

Schreiner, Thomas R. and Shawn D. Wright, ed. Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ. Series Edited by E. Ray Clendenen. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing Group, 2006.

[1] The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Website, http://www.sbts.edu/academics/faculty/shawn-d-wright/ (accessed June 8, 2017).

[2] The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Website, http://www.sbts.edu/academics/faculty/thomas-r-schreiner/ (accessed June 8, 2017).

[3] Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, ed. Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, Series ed. by E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing Group, 2006), 6.

[4] Timothy George, Believer’s Baptism, 1.

[5] Paul K. Jewett, Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace, ed. James Orr (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), 162.

[6] Andreas Köstenberger, Believer’s Baptism, 32-33.

[7] A. T. Robertson, “Baptism, Baptist View,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Chicago: IL, Howard-Severance Co., 1915), 1:416-417.

[8] Robert H. Stein, Believer’s Baptism, 65.

[9] Robertson, “Baptism, Baptist View,” 417.

[10] Thomas R. Schreiner, Believer’s Baptism, 68.

[11] Ronald Y. K. Fung, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Galatians (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 172.

[12] Stephen J. Wellum, Believer’s Baptism, 68.

[13] Ibid., 124.

[14] Ibid., 160.

[15] Ibid., 153.

[16] Ibid., 159.

[17] Steven A. McKinion, Believer’s Baptism, 186-187.

[18] Jonathan H. Rainbow, Believer’s Baptism, 206.

[19] Ibid., 205.

[20] Timothy George, “The Reformed doctrine of believers’ baptism,” Interpretation 47, no. 3 (July 1993): 242. Academic OneFile (accessed June 12, 2017).

[21] Shawn D. Wright, Believer’s Baptism, 254.

[22] Duane A. Garrett, Believer’s Baptism, 281.

[23] Cornelis P. Bennema, Review of Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, by Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, ed. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 52, no. 3 (September 2009): 660, (accessed June 12, 2017).

[24] Ardel B. Caneday, Believer’s Baptism, 285.

[25] Ibid., 286.

[26] Mark E. Dever, Believer’s Baptism, 329.

[27] Bennema, “Believer’s Baptism,” 661.

[28] Timothy George, Believer’s Baptism, XIX.

Case Study for Growing Churches in America

churchgrowth

Measuring growth and success in churches is not something new, but given the major shift currently taking place in Christianity’s center, moving from America to nations like: Africa, South America, and parts of Asia, there has been a special emphasis on what is working and what is not working in churches in the United States. Additionally, as Joe Carter illustrates, “Mainliners may try to comfort themselves by claiming that every denomination is in decline, but it is simply not true. While conservative churches are not growing as quickly as they once were, mainline churches are on a path toward extinction. The mainline churches are finding that as they move further away from biblical Christianity, the closer they get to their inevitable demise.”[1] Growth and success can be misleading words, so a proper definition must be established for both. In many cases, growth is assigned to the numerical attendance, while success points more towards community impact, spiritual formation/development, and reproducing disciples. For the purposes of this case study, three of the top five churches, when looking at numerical growth will be evaluated, compared, and contrasted.[2] By looking at the vision and mission of each church, core doctrines, and values, special areas of ministry will be highlighted and gauged to see if one’s numerical growth is representative of their success.

EVALUATION OF CHURCHES

Gateway Fellowship Church, in San Antonio, Texas is the fastest numerical growing church in the United States with an average attendance of 2,332 people, up 187% over the previous year. Virtually doubling in size over the course of a year is not the norm, but Gateway’s senior pastor; John Van Pay attributes this growth to their passion for discipleship. Van Pay says, “We follow a simple process of discipleship, in which friends are encouraged to belong to a small group so they can grow and be sent to start new small groups where disciples are made.”[3] Small group ministry appears to be the primary focus of Gateway Fellowship Church because small groups present the best environment to form friendships, spiritual formation, and reproducing disciples. At the core of Gateway’s vision is love because, “Love finds a need and meets it.” Other areas to serve center around meeting the needs of: single parents, first responders, the poor and elderly, inner-city ministries, and orphan/foster care programs.

Gateway’s website is very well organized, especially for the first time visitor. In addition to stating their doctrine of faith, their core values center on being: “Spiritually Engaged by Walking With Jesus, Having Passionate Purpose, Through the Making of Disciples, and Being Relationally Connected by Resolving Conflict Biblically.”[4] Getting people plugged into ministry, meeting the needs of others, and serving are the driving forces of their marketing efforts and this is likely one of the primary reasons for their tremendous growth.

Red Rocks Church, in Littleton, Colorado ranks fourth in terms of numerical growth. Current attendance is 9,624, up 26% over last year. Founded in 2005, senior pastor Shawn Johnson credits the church’s growth to, “Pursuing God, Making Him Known, Living in Gospel-Centered Community, Serving with Purpose, and Multiplying Disciples.”[5] What makes this church stand out from any other was their choice to use a run-down theme park to plant the church. Pastor Johnson gives God the complete glory for, “Turning this remote and awkward location into a place where people are able to pray, sacrifice, serve, give, and go for the sake of making heaven more crowded.”

Red Rocks Church, “Exists to make Heaven more crowded.”[6] Getting people plugged in and involved in ministry seems to be the primary focus and intent of the website. Their motto is: “One church, with four ways to get involved: Group Life, Sports, Care, and Serving. Pastor Johnson says, ‘Authenticity and transparency are vital for forming relationships and making the Word of God come alive.’”[7] This mindset is not the norm in many churches or pulpits, but this writer believes it is vital for the congregation to know they are not alone in their struggles, trials, and temptations.

Church of the Highlands, in Birmingham, Alabama is the fifth fastest growing church in America, with attendance of 38,346, up 24% over last year, making them the second largest church in America. Pastor Chris Hodges explains, “Our story begins with the dream of planting a church with a simple goal: ‘help people connect with God in a church without letting structure and programs get in the way.’”[8] The main focus of Church of the Highlands is: “Relevant teaching, heartfelt worship, honest friendships, constant prayer, and compassionate care for others. These focuses help Church of the Highlands line up every ministry with the vision and mission, to make sure all efforts maximize people in becoming fully devoted followers of Christ.

Church of the Highland’s website is easy to navigate and despite the large size of the church and multiple campuses, it was not overwhelming finding a growth track or area of ministry/fellowship to get plugged into. Pastor Hodges, “Co-founded ARC (Association of Related Churches) in 2001, which has launched hundreds of churches all across the USA. He also founded a coaching network called GROW, which trains and resources pastors to help them break barriers and reach their growth potential. Hodges is also the founder and President of the Highlands College, a ministry training school that trains and launches students into full-time ministry careers.”[9] These endeavors, coupled with the Highland’s Growth Track, “Guides you to discover your redemptive purpose and live the life God created for you. The Growth Track is made up of four steps that equip you to 1) connect to the church, 2) discover the strengths of your purposeful design, 3) develop your personal leadership, and 4) use your God-given gifts to make a difference in the lives of others.”[10] In addition to the great growth track, Highland’s Small Groups have one, simple purpose: “To bring people together. We believe God created us to live in relationship with others and only then can we live the full life He intends for us. Sharing life through community is part of our design, but meaningful relationships are not always easy to find. That is why small groups exist—to make these life-changing relationships relevant and accessible to you.”[11] Training, equipping, and empowering their members to do the work of the church is one of the primary reasons for this church’s numerical growth and spiritual health and vitality. The one area that really stood out, when looking through the website was not only their commitment to those who called Highlands their home church, but also to pastors and leaders in other churches, who are looking for resources and/or training.[12] In a climate of church versus church or denomination versus denomination, it was truly refreshing to see a body of believers committed to fulfilling the Great Commission, in partnership with other churches.

COMPARE AND CONTRAST

It was very enlightening looking at the various similarities and differences among some of the fastest growing churches in America. While numerical growth was the determining factor used in the survey, it seems evident the spiritual formation and discipleship for all churches cited are on point with their numerical growth. In recent years, there has been a much-needed shift from focusing on church membership to getting people plugged into ministry and serving. When this occurs, there is a transformation that happens in the life of the believer as he or she taps into their God-given potential. There also seems to be a common thread in all of these churches using small group ministry as the primary place where discipleship, spiritual formation, and relationships are formed. These three areas are vital when assessing the health of a church and also contribute to the spiritual/numerical growth of the church. Each of the churches cited above also offer Española as a ministry and service offered, which is something many new churches have identified as an important outreach. Ultimately, understanding the demographics in one’s area is critical when determining what areas of ministry will be offered. In addition, each of the churches had a clear vision and mission and every area of ministry offered either supported or helped achieve the specific vision or mission. Much of the ministries listed were laity led, which is another trend in many churches and points back to equipping the body of the church to do the work of the church. The sad reality is twenty percent of most church attenders are doing eighty percent of the work, and without a paradigm shift, many leaders and volunteers will burnout because others either refuse or feel ill-equipped to serve. In each of the growing churches, the growth track helped identify the areas of service people were suited for and serving was made a priority for all churches listed. The problem many churches face is how to get the remaining eighty percent of seat warmers to become actively engaged in serving in some form of ministry. For churches that have been around for over five to ten years, this is an ever-increasing dilemma, but one that must be addressed if growth is going to occur. It is all about getting the right people on the bus and in the right seat, and sometimes that means there are people that need to get off the bus because he or she is limiting progress and growth.

CONCLUSION

As Ed Stetzer demonstrates, “Growing churches are showing a great commitment to multiplying themselves, as we see in the development of multiple campuses, and this commitment to multiplication often creates a need for sacrifice. Sacrifice is inherent to the experience of every growing believer—and every growing church.”[13] Sacrifice is also needed for church growth and kingdom growth and churches that understand this principle are poised for God to do great things in and through their congregation. It is sad to say many congregations have the mindset that everything should be about them, while the exact opposite is true. Every service and every ministry must be geared towards the first time visitor and to the people who are not yet serving. The missing catalyst to growth in many churches is helping people discover and refine their areas of spiritual gifting and then plugging them into ministry where he or she can reach their God-given potential in advancing the kingdom of God. This assignment is something every church leader should research and then determine if the vision and mission of their church lines up with the various forms of ministry and fellowship being offered. For some, it will be a wake-up call, while for others, it will help refine and correctly target where God is leading them.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Carter, Joe. “Are All Christian Denominations in Decline?” March 17, 2015. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/factchecker-are-all-christian-denominations-in-decline (accessed June 8, 2015).

Christianity Today Website. “Trends Among Growing Churches.” September 24, 2013 http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2013/september/sacrifice-is-trending.html (accessed June 8, 2017).

Church of the Highlands Website. https://www.churchofthehighlands.com (accessed June 8, 2017).

Gateway Fellowship Church Website. https://mygateway.tv/ (accessed June 7, 2017).

Outreach Magazine Website. http://www.outreachmagazine.com/outreach-100-fastest-growing-churches-2016.html (accessed June 7, 2017).

Red Rocks Church Website. http://www.redrockschurch.com/ (accessed June 8, 2017).

[1] Joe Carter, “Are All Christian Denominations in Decline?” March 17, 2015. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/factchecker-are-all-christian-denominations-in-decline (accessed June 8, 2015).

[2] Outreach Magazine Website, http://www.outreachmagazine.com/outreach-100-fastest-growing-churches-2016.html (accessed June 7, 2017).

[3] Outreach Magazine Website, http://www.outreachmagazine.com/view-2016-top-100-church.html?id=101 (accessed June 8, 2017).

[4] Gateway Fellowship Church Website, https://mygateway.tv/ (accessed June 7, 2017).

[5] Outreach Magazine Website, http://www.outreachmagazine.com/view-2016-top-100-church.html?id=40 (accessed June 8, 2017).

[6] Red Rocks Church Website, http://www.redrockschurch.com/ (accessed June 8, 2017).

[7] Red Rocks Church Website, http://www.redrockschurch.com/learn-more/ (accessed June 8, 2017).

[8] Outreach Magazine Website, http://www.outreachmagazine.com/view-2016-top-100-church.html?id=2 (accessed June 8, 2017).

[9] Church of the Highlands Website, https://www.churchofthehighlands.com/about/pastor (accessed June 8, 2017).

[10] Church of the Highlands Website, https://www.churchofthehighlands.com/connect/growth-track (accessed June 8, 2017).

[11] Church of the Highlands Website, https://www.churchofthehighlands.com/groups (accessed June 8, 2017).

[12] Church of the Highlands Website, https://growleader.com/ (accessed June 8, 2017).

[13] Christianity Today Website, “Trends Among Growing Churches,” September 24, 2013 http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2013/september/sacrifice-is-trending.html (accessed June 8, 2017).

Role of Christ and Spirit in Salvation and Security of Believer

salvation_is_found

The distinctive work of the Son of God and the Spirit of God in the procurement of salvation begins with an understanding of the oneness and unity, achieved between Christ and the new believer. Millard Erickson demonstrates, “All that the believer has spiritually is based on Christ’s being within. Our hope of glory is Christ in us [and] our spiritual vitality is drawn from His indwelling presence” (Erickson 2013, 878). Christ Himself came into the world and took on human nature (John 1:1, 1:14). He then paid the ultimate sacrificial price for all of humanity, with His life, and through His vicarious atoning death on the cross. Christ’s sinless life, His suffering, and His death satisfied the demands of God’s divine justice (1 Peter 3:18) and restored the severed relationship between God and His children (Romans 5:10). Humanity’s problem was, “Our sinful acts have alienated us from your God; and our sins have caused Him to reject us and not listen to our prayers” (Isaiah 59:2). However, “God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Christ’s death ultimately provided salvation and as Erickson shows, “Christ: (1) gave us a perfect example of the type of dedication God desires of us, (2) demonstrated the great extent of God’s love, (3) underscored the seriousness of sin and the severity of God’s righteousness, (4) triumphed over the forces of sin and death, liberating us from their power, and (5) rendered satisfaction to the Father for our sins” (Erickson 2013, 729). The satisfaction theory or atonement as compensation to the Father best encapsulates the role Christ played in procuring humanity’s salvation.

At the moment of salvation, there is a union the new believer attains with Christ, one made up of several parts, and one in which can never fully be comprehended, due to the union being a profound mystery (Ephesians 5:32). Erickson defines the act of salvation as, “The application of the work of Christ to the lives of humans” (Erickson 2013, 826). The first part of this union is of a judicial nature and recognizes believers as being righteous because Christ dwells within. Erickson illustrates, “God does not say, ‘Jesus is righteous but the human is unrighteous.’ [Instead,] He sees the two as one and says in effect, ‘They are righteous’” (Erickson 2013, 881). As the parable of the vine and branches demonstrates, one’s union with Christ is also vital (John 15:4). Leon Morris explains, “The two ‘abidings’ cannot be separated, and ‘abiding’ is the necessary prerequisite of fruitfulness. No branch bears fruit in isolation. Every fruitful branch has vital connection with the vine. So to abide in Christ is the necessary prerequisite of fruitfulness for the Christian” (Morris 1995, 595). In this union, the life of Christ flows into the life of the believer providing both spiritual strength and renewing the believer’s inner nature. The final union is spiritual in nature and in large brought on by the Spirit of God, as Erickson reveals, “Not only is our union with Christ brought about by the Holy Spirit; it is a union of spirits” (Erickson 2013, 881). The union with Christ, as a result of salvation, seems to have the most impact with regards to justification or how God views sinners as now being righteous in His sight. While justification is a single act, occurring at salvation, sanctification and regeneration are an ongoing exercise of faith, with the ultimate goal of becoming more like Christ in one’s thoughts and actions.

The Spirit of God or Holy Spirit plays a major role with conviction of sin, which leads to repentance (John 16:8-11). This divine call or prompting that leads to salvation is an act of God, and is called efficacious grace since it is an effective operation of grace. Charles Hodge explains:

There are three classes into which all events of which we have any knowledge may be arranged. First, those, which are produced by the ordinary operations of second causes as, guided and controlled by the providential agency of God. Secondly, those events in the external world, which are produced by the simple volition, or immediate agency of God, without the cooperation of, second causes. To this class all miracles, properly so called, belong. Thirdly, those effects produced on the mind, heart, and soul, by the volition, or immediate agency of the omnipotence of God. To this class belong, inward revelation, inspiration, miraculous powers, as the gift of tongues, gift of healing, and regeneration” (Hodge 2011, 683).

To this third class belongs the work of efficacious grace, so while the Spirit of God plays a major part in pre-conversion, the Spirit is also the driving force behind regeneration. Erickson describes this process as, “God’s transformation of individual believers, His giving a new spiritual vitality, and direction to their lives when they accept Christ” (Erickson 2013, 872). The Spirit of God facilitates God’s renewing work in the life of the believer and this is a never-ending process. After conversion, the Spirit of God continually works to sanctify the believer (Galatians 5) and Erickson describes this process as, “The Holy Spirit’s applying to the life of the believer the work done by Jesus Christ” (Erickson 2013, 897).

When looking at the assurance, evidence, and security of believers, there are several key components to each of these terms. The assurance of salvation refers to the question, “How do I know I am saved/rescued from my sin.” This is rooted in God’s ability to see the heart of His children and there is no middle ground; He is either Lord of one’s life or He is not. 1 John 5:11 says, “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” This is a propositional truth, meaning we are saved by grace, through faith, based upon on our own beliefs/faith. I. H. Marshall explains, “The question whether we accept God’s testimony or not is not a merely academic one. On our answer too it changes the question whether or not we participate in eternal life. For what God’s testimony means is that he has given us eternal life; but this life is given only in His Son” (Howard 1978, 241). Assurance also is reflected in one’s behavior, meaning, “Do we look like and act like out Father?” One’s faith must be rooted in the blessed assurance of salvation and no amount of good works will ever satisfy.

When referring to evidences of salvation, the key difference between this and the assurance is now the focus is placed on whether someone else is saved. The book of James, specifically 2:17 establishes faith must be expressed and lived, by walking the talk. Frank Gaebelein explains, “James states the proposition he intends to demonstrate in the following verses: ‘Faith… not accompanied by action is dead. Action is the proper fruit of living faith. Because life is dynamic and productive, faith that lives will surely produce the fruit of good deeds. Therefore, if no deeds are forthcoming, it is proof that the professed faith is dead” (Gaebelein 1981, 183). The distinction James is making is not to deny faith; rather, he is indicating it is not the right kind of living faith, which does not possess the power to save. Only by inspecting the fruit in other peoples’ lives can the evidence of salvation be determined, but one must be careful not to solely base the assurance of salvation on what he or she does, but instead on what Christ Jesus has already done in their lives.

The security of the believer answers the question, “How secure is one in his or her salvation?” This is a highly debated subject matter amongst theologians and has become dogma and/or doctrine for many denominations of faith. In this writer’s opinion, an adopted child of God cannot be disowned. Paul, in chapter 5 of his letter to the Romans says, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Douglas Moo explains, “By believing in Jesus Christ, the divine agent in God’s climactic act of deliverance, Paul and the Christians of all ages and places, have been declared innocent of all charges justly brought against those who sin and fall short of God’s glory. Paul presents this declaration of justification as a past act, which brings to the believer a new and permanent status and acquits the sinner” (Moo 1996, 298). A more reformed theology views justification as God’s declaration of one’s righteousness on the merits of Jesus Christ. Proponents of Arminianism warn falling away from Christ is possible citing passages such as: Hebrews 6, 10, Matthew 24, and 1 Corinthians 10. Ultimately, as Erickson illustrates, “It is possible to fall away and by relying on our own strength we surely will. However, if we are secure in Christ it is because of the work of the Holy Spirit, and the work of God in our lives that keeps us from falling” (Erickson 2013, 919-922). Essentially, this means a true follower of Christ we will not fall away despite the warnings that a believer can fall away. The warnings in Scripture serve in many ways like a fence, to keep believers committed to serving the Lord, without removing their free will to choose.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Elwell, Walter A. ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing Group, 2013.

Gaebelein, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 12: Hebrews through Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981.

Marshall, I. Howard. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978.

Moo, Douglas J. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Morris, Leon. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995.