Church Services, for the Believer


Last night I was having a discussion with a couple new friends over a great dinner. I expressed (to their agreement) that a true church service should really not be designed for unbelievers primarily, but for the building and equipping of the saints. While I do try to make the gospel clear to unbelievers each week, the primary purpose of our gathering is to edify believers and to equip them to go out from our assembly to do the work of evangelism. 

Ironically, I just read the following paragraph from The Deliberate Church by Mark Dever and Paul Alexander. They write, 

The Sunday morning service is the main feeding time. As such, biblical exposition is primary. It is popular to view this service primarily as an evangelistic time. As a result, many churches are calibrating these services to the musical and cultural preferences of their target audiences. According to 1 Corinthians 14, though, the purpose of the main weekly gathering of the church is not evangelism, but edification. It seems wise, then, to calibrate these services not to the preferences of unbelievers, but to the scriptural parameters given to us for the mutual edification of believers. 

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  1. #1 by gbfluteman on October 4, 2009 - 12:32 pm

    I completely agree with you (and the article you cited), David. I would also quote 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4 (particularly in regards to the pastor’s role- which could easily divulge onto another discussion in that I’ve noticed how in so many churches the pastors and a few lay people seem to do everything in the church; but that discussion shall be saved for another day, perhaps).

    I trust things are going well for you guys over there. Praying for you!

  2. #2 by Dan Morgan on October 5, 2009 - 11:44 am

    This may not be the best place for this comment, but when I read references that are made solely to Paul’s writings (as in the above), I feel like we’re missing the boat – we’re allocating to Paul special authority that I don’t believe he has.

    Jesus finished the work of redeeming the world. He made a way to the Father for all who would accept it. He still calls us to follow him and become children of God. He also sent the Holy Spirit to us to help us in the many ways the Spirit does. So, what was left unfinished? What remained to do? I’d say: live and walk with God in loving obedience to His commands, such as Matthew 28:18.

    So how do we understand the writings of Jesus’ followers – or everything that follows the Gospels? Acts is really a story – the story of the early church. What about the epistles? Are they “scripture”? Are they equivalent in authority to the OT or to the Gospels?

    I feel in my heart that if Paul were somehow here today, and we asked him if he thought what he wrote was “scripture”, he’d deny it. He’d say that he was writing to exhort, encourage, instruct, and rebuke – not to add anything to the message of Jesus. If we asked him if he thought his writings were on the same level as Jesus’ teachings, I think he’d say “Heaven forbid! I’m just a man like you.”

    If the claim for the epistles being scripture is that they were made part of the Bible under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit at the Council of Nicea, then I’d say: Lots of other councils have been inspired and Spirit-led, such as the Lausanne Conference in 1974. Does that mean that the Lausanne Covenant should be included in all new Bibles published?

    If we say that the epistles are essential, then we must conclude that the early church – the church of Acts and later decades and centuries, was really incomplete. They didn’t have the whole Bilble – just the teachings of Jesus and the prophets – and boy aren’t they lucky that they did as well as they did. Without Romans, how would they even know the plan of salvation??

    What difference does this make? Some pastors just preach on an epistle. Would you be content if your pastor just preached on a book by John Piper, good as his books are? Sometimes I think we are really Paul-followers, not Jesus-followers. I’ve been through church services where Jesus wasn’t even mentioned – but Paul was the main character and mentioned many times (e.g. in the study of one of his letters). I think such events make Paul very uncomfortable, watching from Heaven as he is.

    We also don’t know quite what to do with Paul’s commands. Rob Bell makes this point in Velvet Elvis (wrongly, in my view) that we must interpret everything in the Bible because he says that we don’t “greet one another with a holy kiss” and our women don’t cover their hair and do speak up in worship. If we see Paul’s writings as scripture, then we do have an awkward situation of whether on not to obey him.

    My contention: Jesus is the Gospel. He finished the work of His Father. We follow him. Paul and the rest of his followers up to the present are just men and women who add nothing to the Message, but who do encourage and exhort and teach and rebuke – like Paul did. That makes Paul’s writings in nature no different than other writings of the saints. That said, Paul’s writings and the other epistle authors do hold a unique place in our faith as the first writings of those working to live for God and be His family in this present age. They, being the first, hold a special place in our story – not because of special authority – but because they were the first to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling.”

    So let’s follow Jesus, and live and view the world by His light. This will keep us safe and grounded, built on the rock, and worshipping the Father in spirit and in truth.

  3. #3 by clearly on October 5, 2009 - 11:59 am

    Dan,

    Thanks for taking the time to write down your thoughts. I will not have the time to go through what you have said, point by point, but I do want to give answer to some of what you brought up regarding Paul, Jesus, and Scripture.

    Paul certainly did see himself as the servant of Jesus, one who is subservient to Him, not an authority on a equal plane. However, what makes the writings of Paul just as authoritative as the words of Jesus in the Scriptures is that Paul personally saw Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus at his conversion (see the various accounts in Acts, I believe 8, 26, etc.), was commissioned as an apostle (sent one) by Jesus Christ Himself (Galatians 1:1), preached a gospel delivered to him directly from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-12), etc.

    I trust that helps…

  4. #4 by Dan Morgan on October 5, 2009 - 12:45 pm

    Clearly,

    Thank you for your thoughts. If I am in error in my thinking, I really do want to know it and correct it as need be.

    Regarding Paul’s Damascus Road experience, if we say that Paul had a unique encounter with Jesus there, and that that gives him special authority, then I would ask about the many others who have also had unique encounters with the risen Jesus – what about them? What about their writings? Are they, also, scripture? For example, check out how God is moving in the Muslim world today. So many there are having miraculous encounters with Jesus – either through dreams and visions, or through Damascus-road type encounters. One inspiring case of the latter is found in The Torn Veil, an autobiography by Gulshan Esther from Pakistan. I encourage you to find and read this story. Check out the description of it on Amazon or Wikipedia if nothing else.

    Others, as well, such as she, have also been commissioned by Jesus as messengers/sent ones to their people. Would Jesus do any less? Are not missionaries today apostles who preach a message given by Jesus? If we believe his words are recorded correctly (and we do), then the message is as direct from Jesus as if he appeared in person to each one of us. And, as Jesus says, blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

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