The Future of the Churches of Christ: Dealing with the Numbers

Let’s think about the statistics we discussed a couple of posts ago. At the current rate of decline — assuming no acceleration — the Churches of Christ will hit zero members in 121 years.

But, of course, for at least a while, the numbers will accelerate, because the numbers show the church becoming disproportionately older and the rate of decline is going up. We aren’t keeping our own children, much less bringing new children in. Continue reading

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Baptism/Amazing Grace: A Conversation Over Lunch, Part 27 (In Reply to Keith Brenton, Part 4)

History

What I’m trying to say is, should we presume either salvation or condemnation for the non-believer (who has not heard) with regard to a judgment that has not yet taken place and in the absence of incontrovertible clear specific scripture?

We should presume nothing. We should study the scriptures to learn what they reveal. And we should not avert our eyes from the hard texts, imagining that we can come up with a form of Christianity better than God’s own. Continue reading

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The Future of the Churches of Christ: Core Values of a Church in Decline

Appropriate to the last post opf this series, Perry Noble has posted an article on the core values of a church in decline. Here are the first three —

#1 – Laziness - Most people/churches are not “stuck” or in decline because they do not know or understand what the Lord wants them to do…God speaks very clearly in His Word and through His Spirit.  It’s just that God’s work always requires people to take a step of faith!  Remember, God promised the Israelites the “Promised Land,” but they actually had to go in and fight the battles.  A church that refuses to do whatever it takes and embraces laziness will eventually settle in the desert until that generation dies off. Continue reading

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Elders: Getting Ready for Tulsa

I’ll be teaching three consecutive classes at the Tulsa Workshop (Lord willing). These will be at 2:00, 3:00, and 4:00 on Friday, March 23 in classroom CP#2.

The Workshop is free to all comers, and held at the Tulsa EXPO (Tulsa Fair Grounds).

I was only allowed to list a single topic, which is “What God Wants Most from Elders.” My intention is to cover that topic in the first hour.

In the second, I want to talk about the loss of our young people. Studies show that we’re losing an astonishing percentage of our teenagers once they leave home. One solution that’s been suggested is for the church to become more like family, that is, to do multi-generational ministry. We’ll discuss the idea.

In the third hour, I intend to take questions about nearly anything.

In preparation for the first and third sessions, I have two questions for the readers:

1. What does God most want from elders? Church growth? Conversions? What?

3. If you’re planning to be at the Workshop, what other questions could I address that would be helpful to you in your ministry as an elder?

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Baptism/Amazing Grace: A Conversation Over Lunch, Part 26 (In Reply to Keith Brenton, Part 3)

Justice and mercy

Won’t He judge them by their words and actions as we will be and judge with justice and mercy with them as well as with us?

Yes, he’ll judge them by their words and actions, and he’ll judge with perfect justice. But there is no “justice and mercy.” It’s either justice or it’s mercy. Those are not the same concept! Continue reading

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Acts 3: Peter heals a lame man and preaches his second gospel sermon

(Act 3:1 ESV) Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.

Notice that the early church continued to worship God at the Temple, even following the Jewish custom of praying at the 9th hour (about 3:00 PM), which was one of the times for the twice-daily sacrifice.

(Act 3:2-3 ESV)  2 And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple.  3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms.

This was a smart man. It would have been hard for a God-fearing Jew to enter the Temple without making a donation. How clean could you feel before God if you’d just rejected the needs of one of his children?

(Act 3:4-6 ESV)  4 And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.”  5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.  6 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

Notice that Peter and John were penniless. They were the leaders of a church of 3,000 — the world’s first megachurch — and didn’t have a penny to give a beggar!

Leading such a large church was surely fulltime work. It’s hard to imagine that they worked a second job. They lived on the generosity of the congregation.

They give what they have — the power of Jesus the Messiah — which is of far greater worth than money. How I wish we believed this! Yes, the poor need money, and we should be generous, but if we refuse to share Jesus with them, we are tightfisted and miserly.

The apostles work a miracle “in the name of Jesus Messiah of Nazareth.” The language emphasizes both that Jesus is King and that he human. He grew up in Galilee, but he lives in heaven.

(Act 3:7-10 ESV) 7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.  8 And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.  9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God,  10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

The natural response of finding Jesus is to praise him before even strangers. Indeed, he was “leaping” in the Temple! How embarrassing is that? I mean, the Temple is a place for decorum, where we wear our church faces, where we pretend to be as holy as the place where we walk. But this man knew nothing but joy and honestly expressed his feelings in the presence of God Almighty. Amen.

The result was to draw others to Jesus in “wonder and amazement.”

(Act 3:11 ESV)  11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s.

Imagine the scene. It’s the Temple, filled with all sorts of people who’ve come to see a lamb sacrificed and to pray to YHWH. This man comes in praising God loudly, leaping, and clinging to two Galileans.

Why cling? Well, I suppose because he just wanted to be close to those who rescued him from misery. Or because he wanted to point the world in their direction.

But the word translated “cling” really means “grasped” — as in, “hold and refuse to let go.” He hung on them, insisting on being as close of possible.

Peter takes the opportunity to preach a sermon.

(Act 3:12-15 ESV)  12 And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?  13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him.  14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you,  15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.

He begins by accusing his listeners of killing Jesus! I’m not sure the homiletics professors would approve. It’s a gutsy move in a city known for stoning prophets.

“Holy and Righteous One” takes language formerly reserved for God and applies it to Jesus. “Author of life” credits Jesus with being one with the Creator. To a Jewish audience, Peter was claiming that Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God.

(Act 3:16 ESV)  16 And his name–by faith in his name–has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.

Peter then quickly speaks of the necessity of faith in Jesus — the power of faith being proved by the miracle.

(Act 3:17-21 ESV) 17 “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.  18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled.  19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out,  20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus,  21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.”

Peter declares his listeners to have acted in ignorance — even their rulers! — but still requiring repentance. Forgiveness comes if they repent — which they would do by faith in Jesus, that is, submitting to him as King.

(Act 3:22-26 ESV)  22 Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you.  23 And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’  24 And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.  25 You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’  26 God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”

Peter concludes by reviewing several key messianic prophecies — especially God’s covenant with Abraham.

He concludes by urging his listeners to turn from “your wickedness” by faith. Their wickedness was a failure to recognize that Jesus is the Messiah. They turn from that wickedness by faith in Jesus.

Now, notice that the sermon Peter preaches is centered on Jesus and the fact that he is the Messiah. It calls for a response — faith in Jesus — meaning submission to him as King. (He didn’t have to define “Messiah” for the Jews in the Temple.)

Peter quotes Moses, “You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.” To “listen” to Jesus is a Hebrew idiom for obey. This is a call for submission.

The gospel is not merely that we can invite Jesus into our hearts be saved or that we can confess his divinity and be baptized and so be saved. The gospel begins with the fact that Jesus is King Jesus, and that we are called to submit to him — coupled with a promise of forgiveness and the hope of a “time of refreshing.”

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Of Kidneys, Stones, and Tulsa

[GRAPHIC LANGUAGE WARNING: MEDICAL PROCEDURE WILL BE DESCRIBED IN HORRIFYING DETAIL.]

I’ve just released from the hospital due to a bout with kidney stones. I’ve been hurting with these since Monday, and they checked me into the hospital Thursday.

At first, it looked like a very small, easily passed stone, but ultimately they checked me in and did surgery.

Now, “easily passed” is doctor-talk for “pass with pain beyond human knowing but without having to pay for my kid’s college education.” There are no “easily passed” kidney stones. But passing a stone, for all its pain (worse than labor pains, a nurse told me with first-person conviction), is much easier than having it surgically extracted. I now know. Continue reading

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The Future of the Churches of Christ: The Latest (Sad) Numbers

The Christian Chronicle has recently reported that the number of Church of Christ adherents (members and their unbaptized children) continues to decline.

Since 2003, the number is down 102,000 or 6.2%.

During the same time, the number of congregations fell by 708, or 5.4%.

That’s not a “decline.” It’s a free fall. Continue reading

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Baptism/Amazing Grace: A Conversation Over Lunch, Part 25 (In Reply to Keith Brenton, Part 2)

Preaching “salvation” in Acts

Moreover, we see clearly evidenced in Acts the missionary zeal of Paul and others to bring the gospel to a lost world. The martyrs gave their lives to save the lost from damnation.

Those who preached the gospel in Acts thought they were bringing salvation to the lost — Continue reading

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Baptism/Amazing Grace: A Conversation Over Lunch, Part 25.1

Let’s see. Where to begin? Well, I’ve been in the hospital since Thursday, dealing with kidney stones. And what with the lasers, drugs, surgery, and all, I’ve not had many opportunities to post. The posts you’ve seen were written before the kidney problems manifested.

I’ll catch y’all up to date on the state of my kidneys later. For now, I’d rather think of other things. Continue reading

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