What Does It Mean to Be Baptist?: Four Distinctives

In recent years, denominational differences have been downplayed as divisive or insignificant. I do not believe this is the case. In fact, the creation of denominations is, in reality, helpful for kingdom unity and work. Denominations exist so Christians with differing convictions can still acknowledge one another as Christian family and work in some Christian ministries and efforts together (like pregnancy resource centers, special prayer efforts, etc.), without causing division, distraction, or confusion in the local church as we seek to live out those differing convictions on how God desires to be worshiped and for His people to be discipled.  Imagine if, in the same local church, half believed in infant baptism and the other half in believer’s baptism, or a quarter believed in women pastors and three quarters did not, or if three fifths believed speaking in tongues means speaking in an angelic tongue and the other portion of the church believed it means speaking in known human languages in missional situations, or if half the church believed an outside authority, like a bishop or superintendent, had jurisdiction over the local church and the other half believed the church to be autonomous. There would be so much confusion in such a church that kingdom growth would be greatly hindered and subverted. So what is it at the core of being Baptist? What have Baptists historically believed that differs from many other Christian denominations?

The primary Baptist distinctive is regenerate church membership.

Baptists believe that no one can be admitted into church membership until he or she has first received salvation and baptism. Therefore, infants do not automatically become members. Furthermore, those joining must present sufficient evidence of a conversion experience.

The second Baptist distinctive is local church autonomy.

Baptists believe that each local church has authority from Jesus to govern herself under His authority. While Baptists believe in cooperation between local churches, no religious entity exists which has authority over a Baptist church. Conventions and Associations exist as cooperative networks rather than governing bodies. Such practices as “church campuses” subvert this distinctive.

The third Baptist distinctive is congregational polity.

Baptists believe in the priesthood of all believers—that God has regenerated every believer by His Spirit and in so doing equipped every believer for service in and for the church. Therefore, the local church is governed by the congregation. Members are guided by the Holy Spirit to discern His will together, typically in the form of a vote.

The fourth Baptist distinctive is symbolic immersive credobaptism.

Baptists believe the only legitimate form of baptism is that in which the baptized individual is a born-again believer in Jesus Christ who is baptized by immersion.

Baptist credobaptism is different from Campbellite baptism as Baptists see it as an an important sign which cannot earn, merit, or dispense God’s saving grace. Instead, it announces that one has already been saved prior to baptism and is now walking with Jesus and desiring to walk with the church. Baptists believe that Scripture reveals four aspects of rightful baptism:

            The right person: a born-again believer

In the Bible, there is never a hint that anyone should be baptized who has not decided for him or herself to surrender to Jesus in faith and repentance. Therefore, infants cannot be baptized. One who has undergone infant baptism should seek obedience to the Lord by being baptized legitimately as a believer.

            The right reason: obedience and declaration of your new faith.

Baptism is a sign to others that the new believer has joined with Jesus and with His church. Baptism should be motivated by a desire to love and obey the Lord—not in an attempt to gain salvation.

            The right method: immersion under water

The New Testament term for baptize (baptizō) means to immerse in water. Sprinkling (aspersion) and pouring (affusion) are not biblical methods found anywhere in the New Testament. Immersion is the only method of baptism that correctly portrays the death and resurrection which baptism represents (Romans 6:1-7).

            The right authority: a local church

Jesus commanded His Apostles to baptize new disciples with water (Matthew 28:19-20). The Apostles were the foundation of the church and this responsibility to baptize passed from them to local churches, as did the responsibility to make disciples for Jesus (Ephesians 2:19-22). Therefore, the local church is the only right authority and entity to baptize a new believer.

These four Baptist distinctives are not exhaustive but they are primary to what it means to be Baptist.

Why Are Church Leaders Called Pastors?

Seeing the growth of the church was spreading beyond their direct reach and time, Jesus’ Apostles began to appoint leaders in every local church to bear some of the responsibilities entrusted to them (Acts 14:23; 1 Pet 5:1-4).[1] The leaders are called by three interchangeable, but not synonymous,[2] names in the New Testament: πρεσβυτέρους/presbuterous (translated elder or presbyter), ἐπισκόποις/episkopois (translated overseer or bishop), and ποιμένας/poimenas (translated as shepherd or pastor).[3]

In many churches today, these leaders are most frequently called pastors from the third title above. What does the term pastor mean? The term comes to English from Latin, meaning shepherd, herdsmen, or one who feeds. God used this term to communicate what He wants the leaders of His church to be and do. When we survey the shepherding motif in the Bible, at least thirteen aspects of shepherding surface.

First, pastors love their flock.

A clear manifestation of this motive in regards to the shepherding task is found in John twenty-one in the recommissioning of Peter. Peter had denied Jesus three times before Jesus’ death. Once the Resurrected Lord appeared to Peter, He asked Peter whether he loved Him three times. When Peter answered in the affirmative, Jesus directed Peter in the way to express that love: “Tend My lambs (Βόσκε τὰ ἀρνία μου)…Shepherd My sheep (Ποίμαινε τὰ πρόβατά μου)…Tend My sheep (Βόσκε τὰ πρόβατά μου)” (Jn 21:15-17).[4] Love for Jesus is rightly expressed by love for His sheep. As Jesus commissioned Peter to shepherd from a right motive, Peter would commission other shepherds in kind. (1 Pt 5:2).

Second, pastors express self-sacrifice toward their flock.

Once Jesus had recommissioned Peter to the shepherding task, He warned Peter of his future martyrdom and commanded, “Follow Me!” (Jn 21:18-19). Jesus connected Peter’s role as a shepherd to suffering. This calling of Peter is consistent with the previous biblical pictures of the Messianic Shepherd. Zechariah prophesies the way God’s people would be restored to Him after their sin and idolatry. He writes, “Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, And against the man, My Associate…Strike the Shepherd that the sheep may be scattered” (Zech 13:7). Klein states:  

[T]he servant in Isaiah 53 and the shepherd in Zech 13 share much in common. They suffer because it was the Lord’s will for them to do so. Both experience death wrongfully and evoke sorrow and consternation among the people for the wrong done to them. Most importantly, both figures suffer in order to effect purification for sins. The result of the suffering of the servant and the shepherd will bring great benefit to God’s people.[5]

Jesus Himself said that He, as the Good Shepherd, lays down His life for the sheep. In contrast to the thief, robber, stranger, wolf, and hired hand who just want to use the sheep for their own benefit, Jesus shows Himself selfless and willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the sheep.

 In Ezekiel thirty-four and Jeremiah twenty-three, God rebukes the shepherds[6] of His people because they were using the flock for their own benefit and the flock’s detriment. In contrast, a biblical pastor must be willing to spend Himself sacrificially for the benefit of his congregation. No one should undertake such a calling who is unwilling to give of himself freely.

Third, pastors show compassion for their flock.

Recalling the succession of Joshua to a shepherd-like role for Israel (Num 27:17), Matthew and Mark comment on the attitude of Jesus toward those in need. The evangelists record, “He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt 9:36). Abbott-Smith explains that the noun form of this verb, σπλάγχνον/splagnon, refers to the “inward parts” such as “heart, liver, lungs, etc.” and indicates “the seat of the feelings and of the feelings themselves.” He explains that the New Testament usage usually speaks of “feelings of kindness, benevolence and pity.”[7]

Jesus’ shepherding compassion in Matthew’s Gospel motivated Him to travel so He could proclaim the gospel and heal (Mt 9:35), an antithetical action to that of the shepherds of Ezekiel thirty-four who “have not strengthened…have not healed…have not bound up…have not brought back” the sickly, diseased, broken and scattered sheep (Ez 34:4). This compassion compelled Jesus to send out His disciples to act in the same way (Mt 10:1). In Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ compassion motivated Him to teach the crowds and to feed them miraculously (Mk 6:33-42). He likewise involved His disciples in His shepherding activity (Mk 6:41). Even though the work may be continually demanding, present day biblical shepherds must continue to feel compassion for the spiritually needy and must not grow emotionally calloused. 

Fourth, pastors carry a concern for the eternity of their flock.

In Psalm 28:9, David supplicates, “Save Your people and bless Your inheritance; Be their shepherd also, and carry them forever.” David ties shepherding to the eternal salvation of God’s people. After using the shepherding verb וּֽרְעֵם (Be their shepherd), David describes part of the shepherding task as וְנַשְּׂאֵם עַד־הָעֹולָֽם (carry them forever). Brown, Driver, and Briggs indicate this particular usage of the Piel Imperative verb as to “carry, bear continuously.”[8]  This usage of the verb indicates an eternal dependence upon God as Shepherd.

The writer of Hebrews urges his readers to “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls…” (Hb 13:17). While the typical words for shepherding are not present here, there can be little doubt that pastors are in view.[9] David Allen explains, “The verb translated ‘keep watch’ implies constant vigilance, wakefulness, or sleeplessness…The shepherding aspect of pastoral duty seems to be implied in this verb, and this is supported by the author’s reference to Jesus the great Shepherd of the sheep in the benediction in v. 20.”[10] Pink also states of this passage, “The true under-shepherds of Christ have no selfish aims, but rather the spiritual and eternal good of those who are entrusted to their care.”[11]

In Ephesians four, Paul explains that God gave the teaching offices, including pastors, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12).  Jesus’ goal in gifting pastors was the spiritual and eternal well-being of the His people.[12] Eduard Thurneysen communicates the importance of this spiritual and eternal concern in the life of individuals and states, “the content of the proclamation of pastoral care can be no other than the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ…The power of forgiveness consists precisely in the fact that man is reclaimed for God, in body and soul, and brought under his hand…”[13] Biblical pastors must be motivated by an eternal concern for their congregations that causes them to direct individuals to the gospel of Jesus for comprehensive salvation.

Fifth, pastors realize accountability to the Chief Shepherd for their flock.

When Jesus recommissioned Peter, He referred to the object of the shepherding activity “My sheep” and “My lambs” (Jn 21:15-17). The flock did not belong to Peter but to Christ. Peter expressed this idea to the shepherds that he instructed when he referred to Jesus as “the Chief Shepherd” (1 Pt 5:4).[14] Paul calls the flock “the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). Jesus, Peter, and Paul reveal that shepherding is an act of stewardship and with all trusts of stewardship, accountability will occur (cf. Mt 25:14-30).

 Peter expresses the positive side of this accountability as he reminds the undershepherds that the Chief Shepherd will  appear and reward His faithful servants with “the unfading crown of glory” (1 Pt 5:4). The writer of Hebrews speaks of the accountability of shepherds in a more neutral way as he says leaders are “those who will give an account” (Hb 13:17). Ezekiel spoke of shepherding accountability in a negative way, in terms of judgment. The shepherds of his day had shepherded poorly and selfishly, allowing the sheep to go unfed and to become prey. Therefore, God would remove them as shepherds and remove the privileges of shepherding (Ez 34:7-10). Biblical shepherds tend their congregations faithfully because they will one day answer to the Chief Shepherd and receive a verdict from His hand.

Sixth, pastors provide spiritual sustenance for their flock.

The Old Testament verb for shepherd, רָעָה/ra’ah, means “pasture, tend, graze”[15] and carries the idea of leading sheep to pasture to find food. The King James Version captures this idea when it translates the term as “feed” on multiple occasions.[16]

Jesus serves as a positive example of this shepherding task. His shepherding-compassion led Him to “teach them many things” (Mk 6:34) and also to provide physical sustenance in a miraculous way that would draw their souls to the spiritual nourishment offered. The shepherds of Ezekiel thirty-four serve as a negative example. God indicted them, “You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock” (Ez 34:3). Cooper provides aid to understand the metaphor of feeding the flock when he states, “Kings and leaders often were called ‘shepherds’ in the ancient Near east…They bore a primary responsibility for the moral and spiritual direction of the nations.”[17]

In Psalm twenty-three, David writes, “I shall not want” because the LORD is his Shepherd. David then answers the manner in which his Shepherd provides, “He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul” (Ps 23:2-3). The green pastures were a remedy to hunger and malnourishment. The quiet waters prevented thirst and dehydration.  This is how the LORD as Shepherd “restores my soul.” The word for restores used here, יְשֹׁובֵב/washuvev, is a Polel Imperfect verb that is used figuratively here to mean “restore, refresh.”[18] The sheep eat from the LORD’s provision and are refreshed. But the nature of the LORD’s provision must be addressed. David used a cognate of this term in Psalm 19:7, מְשִׁיבַת/mashuvet, having the similar idea which Brown, Driver, and Briggs express as “to bring back heart…refresh.”[19] In Psalm Nineteen, it is the Law of the LORD that is “restoring the soul.” The nature of pastoral sustenance is the Word of God. Thurneysen writes, “pastoral care must be practiced. But it must be pastoral care in which the Word of God retains its self-sufficiency and stand over against all human piety and in which man does not cease to be its pupil.”[20] The Biblically faithful shepherd will feed His congregation from nothing but the Word of God.

Seventh, pastors provide spiritual protection for their flock.

. In Psalm twenty-three, David is not afraid even though he walks through “the valley of the shadow of death.” VanGemeren explains, “This imagery is consistent with the shepherd metaphor because the shepherd leads the flock through ravines and wadis where the steep and narrow slopes keep out the light. The darkness of the wadis represent the uncertainty of life.”[21] The presence of the LORD is a constant comfort to David and reminder that he is protected. David then mentions the tools of the Shepherd, one of which is the “rod.” The Hebrew word שֵׁבֶט /shevet, translates as “rod, staff, club, scepter”[22] and here likely refers to a club for guarding against predators and thieves[23].

Paul’s address to the Ephesian elders includes the command to “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God” (Acts 20:28). After directing these elders to shepherd, he warns them that false teachers will come. This is the reason they must “Be on guard.” A Biblical shepherd will guard and warn his congregation against false teaching and impious living.

Eighth, pastors cultivate a relationship with their flock.

In John 10:11-18, Jesus states, “I know My own and My own know Me…they will hear My voice.” Borchert explains, “The use of ginōskein (“know”) here is far more than cognitive (factual) knowledge. The relationship between Jesus and his sheep is modeled on the relationship between Jesus and the Father (10:15).”[24] The shepherd spends long days, nights, and weeks with his sheep. He learns his sheep’s personalities, habits, and weaknesses. The sheep are able to discern their shepherd’s voice among other noises and other shepherds’ voices.[25] Thomas Oden applies this concept to knowing the terrain in which the sheep travel and pasture.[26] VanGemeren explains that David’s use of the covenant name of God, יְהוָה/Yahweh, and his emphasis on “my” in Psalm 23:1 speaks of the personal nature of God’s relationship with His people.[27] Biblical shepherds will take time to know their congregations, corporately and individually. The pastorate is no place for one uninterested in God’s sheep.

Ninth, pastors lead their flock.

The LORD, as Shepherd, “leads” (נָחָה /nachah) His sheep in paths of righteousness (Ps 23:3). God promised His people that one day He will provide “shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding” (Jer 3:15). The metaphor here of feeding is the idea of governing.[28] Matthew combines two prophesies in a way that links shepherding and leadership (Mt 2:6). He quotes Micah 5:2 to show that a “ruler” would come from Bethlehem and, drawing from Micah’s pastoral description of this ruler (Mic 5:4), Matthew appends the call for a Davidic Shepherd-King from Second Samuel 5:2. This would have been a natural connection for Matthew to make as shepherding was a common metaphor for civil leaders in Ancient Palestine (cf. Num 27:15-17). Also, Abbott-Smith lists the definition for the verb ποιμανεῖ in Matthew 2:6 as “to tend, shepherd, govern.”[29] The idea of shepherding and leadership cannot be neatly separated. Likewise, Paul and Peter link the idea of shepherding with that of leadership when they use the terms, ἐπισκόπους (overseer/bishop) and ποιμαίνειν (shepherd) as descriptions of the same office (Acts 20:28; 1 Pt 5:1-4). Biblical shepherds must lead the congregation to desire, seek, and obey the Word of God.

Tenth, pastors will separate their flock.

In Ezekiel thirty-four, God portrays Himself as the true Shepherd of His people who will “judge between one sheep and another, between the rams and the male goats…between the fat sheep and the lean sheep” (Ez 34:17-22). God would remove and punish those who did not belong in His flock. Likewise, Jesus portrays Himself as the eschatological Shepherd who “judges as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Mt 25:32). Köstenberger notes that in John ten, Jesus’ sheep listen to His voice and those who do not “demonstrate that they are not God’s sheep.”[30]

Jesus gave the keys of the Kingdom to His Apostles (Mt 16:15-19) which are expressed through church acceptance and discipline (Mt 18:15-18). The verbs “bind” and “loose” connect these passages and their ideas together. As pastors are the leaders of local congregations, and as the idea of shepherding always includes separating between sheep, biblical shepherds must lead their church in guarding the sheepfold from goats and unrepentant sheep through carefully checking the salvation of those who join and by leading the church to discipline members whose lives do not match the church’s confession.[31]

Eleventh, pastors heal their flock.

Heil explains, “In God’s castigation of Israel’s leaders as shepherds in Ezek 34:4-5 healing is among the responsibilities they have neglected” but Jesus on the other hand would fulfil this work faithfully.[32] But how are pastors to bring healing to their flocks? Physical issues and spiritual issues are not disconnected. Sometimes, physical ailments are caused by sin (Jn 5:14). James tells us that the sick should call on the elders who will come and anoint them with oil and pray over them. Anointing with oil is tied to repentance of sins[33]. Pastors should encourage their church members to investigate their own hearts for unconfessed sin and repent, receiving grace from the Lord. As congregants confess their sins, the pastors should pray for them that they may receive physical healing (Ja 5:16). But how can one know what is sin? Pastors must faithfully and systematically feed the sheep the Word of God, whether in the pulpit or the counseling room. As they do so, congregations will avoid physical ailments brought on because of sin but also will receive spiritual and emotional healing from God’s Word.

Twelfth, pastors train others to shepherd their flock.

New Testament churches always had a counsel of pastors, often called elders (Ac 14:23; Ti 1:5). Paul directed Timothy to take what Paul taught him and teach it to faithful men who could teach it to others (2 Tm 2:2). Biblical pastors should be cultivating qualified men that they might one day become part of the church’s episcopate (council of overseers or elders).

Matthew and Mark reveal Jesus inviting His disciples to participate in His shepherding work (Mt 9:36-10:1; Mk 6:33-42). Jesus commissioned Peter to shepherd (Jn 21:15-17). Peter referred to Jesus as Chief Shepherd while guiding fellow shepherds in their mutual task (1 Pt 5:1-4).[34]

Thirteenth, pastors will call others to become part of their flock.

While evangelism is not a primary function of pastors as pastors, it is still an aspect of shepherding as it intersects with pastors’ responsibility to model the Christ-like life and to lead the flock in evangelistic efforts (see my previous article, Is Evangelism My Pastor’s Job? No…and Yes.) Jesus said, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd” (Jn 10:16).[35] Biblical pastors will seek to gather other sheep who are willing to follow the Chief Shepherd and will seek to disciple them for the Chief Shepherd.

The New Testament leaders of the local church were referred to as pastors and directed in their work by shepherding language. Present-day pastors must look to the historical, cultural, literary, and theological background of shepherding found in the Scriptures. Such a survey will yield several aspects of the work of shepherding which, when developed, will glorify King Jesus, edify the flock, and provide a greater sense of fulfilment and reward to the shepherds.

[1]  Benjamin Merkle makes this speculation after noting that Luke speaks of the Apostles and Jerusalem elders working together in Acts 11:30 but as Acts progresses, the Apostles are mentioned less and the elders more in Shepherding God’s Flock: Biblical Leadership in the New Testament and Beyond (Grand Rapids: Kregel Ministry, 2014), 610.

[2] While all three terms refer to the same office, they each are built from a different cultural background and therefore bring a different nuance to that office.

[3] See Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Peter 5:1-5; and cf. 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9 for the interchangeability of these three terms for the same office.

[4] In a footnote, Gerald L. Borchert explains, “In the case of the Johannine use of the words for love and shepherding, the reader should not focus on the change of the Greek words but concentrate on the growing impact of Jesus’ statements” in John 12-21 (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2002), 335.

[5] George L. Klein, Zechariah (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2008), 389. 

 [6]Kiel and Delitzsch explain that shepherds in these contexts refer to “rulers alone, but more particularly by the primary passage already referred to (Jer. 23:1-8), where we are to understand by the shepherds, kings and princes, to the exclusion of priests and prophets, against whom Jeremiah first prophesies from v. 9 onwards…” in Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 9: Ezekiel Daniel Trans. James Martin and M.G. Easton, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2011), 288. Yet, the context of Jeremiah twenty-three clearly reveals prophets to be in view as well.

[7] G. Abbott-Smitt, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1922), 414.  

[8] F. Brown, S. Driver, and C. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon: with an Appendix containing the Biblical Aramaic, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 672.

[9] See Hebrews 13:7 where the same leaders are in view and are those who “spoke the word of God to you.” This teaching ministry is consistent with the “pastor-teachers” of Ephesians 4:11 and the overseers in 1 Timothy 3:2 who must be “able to teach.”

[10] David L. Allen, Hebrews (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 624-625. 

[11] Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1954), 1243.  

 [12] See Frank Thielman’s excellent discussion of this idea in Ephesians, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 280. 

[13] Eduard Thurneysen, A Theology of Pastoral Care, Trans. Jack A Worthington and Thomas Wieser, (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1962), 67. 

[14]See Schreiner 1, 2 Peter, Jude (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), 233. 

[15]  F. Brown, S. Driver, and C. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon: with an Appendix containing the Biblical Aramaic, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 944.

[16] For examples see Gen 29:7; 1 Sam 17:15; 2 Sam 5:2; Ps 28:9; Prov 10:20; Is 40:11; Jer 3:15, 23:2; Ez 34:2.  

[17] Lamar Eugene Cooper, Sr. Ezekiel (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 298. 

[18]  F. Brown, S. Driver, and C. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon: with an Appendix containing the Biblical Aramaic, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 998.

[19] Ibid., 999. 

[20]  Eduard Thurneysen, A Theology of Pastoral Care, Trans. Jack A Worthington and Thomas Wieser, (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1962), 33.

[21] Willem A. VanGemeren, Psalms (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 254.

[22] F. Brown, S. Driver, and C. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon: with an Appendix containing the Biblical Aramaic, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 986.

[23] See Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 1-50, (Waco: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 1983), 207.  

[24] Gerald L. Borchert, John 12-21 (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2002), 335.

[25] Ibid., 330. 

[26]  Thomas C. Oden, Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1983), 52.

[27]  Willem A. VanGemeren, Psalms (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 253.

[28] C.F. Kel and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 10: The Minor Prophets (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2011), 328.

[29]  G. Abbott-Smitt, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1922), 370.

[30] Andreas J. Köstenberger, “Shepherds and Shepherding in the Gospels” in Shepherding Go’s Flock: Biblical Leadership in the New Testament and Beyond, eds. Benjamin L. Merkle and Thomas R. Schreiner, (Grand Rapids: Kregel Ministry, 2014), 48.

[31] See Eduard Thurneysen’s chapter “Pastoral Care as Church Discipline” in A Theology of Pastoral Care, Trans. Jack A. Worthington and Thomas Wieser, (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1962) and Joseph Flatt Jr’s chapter “How Shall I Respond to Sin in the Church?: A Plea to Restore the Third Mark of the Church” in Reforming Pastoral Ministry: Challenges for Ministry in Postmodern Times. John H. Armstrong, Ed. (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2001).

[32] John Paul Heil, “Ezekiel 34 and the Narrative Strategy of the Shepherd and Sheep Metaphor in Matthew” in The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 55, no. 4 (October 1993), 701-702.

[33]  Kurt A. Richardson, James (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1997), 232-234. 

[34] See Timothy S. Laniak, Shepherds after My Own Heart: Pastoral Traditions and Leadership in the Bible, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2006), 222.

[35] See Derek Prime and Alistair Begg. On Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and Work (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2004), 61; Alex D. Montoya. “Outreaching” in Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 60-61.

12 Reasons I Love Grace Point Church and Highly Recommend GPC to You

When you’re looking for a church home, there are many factors to consider. Some factors are more important than others and it is important to weight and evaluate those factors carefully. Pastors don’t always get to choose the church they want to be a part of but they go where they believe God is leading them to go. I am doubly blessed as a pastor. Not only has God called me to be a shepherd of Grace Point Church, but I would choose to be a member of Grace Point Church even if I wasn’t one of their pastors (Lord permitting). Here are twelve reasons why:

Grace Point Church 3440 Zion Road, Henderson, KY gracepointhenderson.com

#1: Grace Point is committed to learning and following the Bible

Grace Point believes that God has revealed Himself and His plan perfectly in the Holy Bible (Psalm 19:1-14). We believe that the Bible is inspired by the perfect God and therefore is perfect; being inerrant and infallible (2 Timothy 3:15-17; Isaiah 55:11). We believe that the Bible contains everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:2-11).

At Grace Point, the main questions that are asked when considering what we should do in any given situation is not “How have we done this before?” Nor is it “What is the traditional way of doing this?” Nor is it “How do we want to do this?”  Nor is it “How will people think of us if we do this?” Nor is it “What do we think will work best?” Rather, the primary questions our church asks are “What does God’s Word direct us to do?” and “How can we be most faithful to Scripture?” When considering material for our classes, Grace Point asks, “Does this material help us understand and apply God’s Word?”

#2: Grace Point is a church that is committed to expository preaching

There are many types and styles of preaching and they are not all created equal. Since the Bible is inspired by God, is perfect, and contains all that is needed for life and godliness and since Jesus is the head of the church (Colossians 1:18), it follows that His Word is what a church should be fed when gathered on the Lord’s Day for worship. Some sermons conceal God’s Word while others expose God’s Word. Some sermons use a passage of Scripture as a mere springboard for the preacher to say what he wants to say. Some sermons start by asking what the perceived needs of the people are. Some sermons start with the preacher asking what he wants to talk about and then he pieces together verses from all over the Bible to say what he wants to say. But in all these instances, the Holy Spirit, the Inspirer of the Bible, is not in the driver’s seat. But with expository preaching, one passage is selected, preached in its context, and the main point of the sermon is the main point of that passage. The preacher sees his job as explaining and applying the passage to exhort the congregation to trust the passage and live in light of it. This is the preaching that Grace Point Church values and strives to attain.

#3: Grace Point is committed to regenerate church membership

Regenerate church membership is the primary Baptist distinctive and a necessity to have a healthy and genuine New Testament church. Regenerate church membership means that the church membership consists only of those who are born again through faith in Jesus Christ. Regenerate church membership takes a great deal of effort on the part of the church through admitting members carefully and practicing church discipline gently. How do we strive for regenerate membership at GPC? The church requires that all potential members attend a membership class to ensure that the basics of the Christian faith and the functioning of our church are understood. Then, a potential member must meet with at least two of the church’s elders to share his salvation testimony, baptism testimony, and prior church experience. Finally, upon the recommendation of the elders, the church membership votes to receive these potential members during a business meeting. Further, our church provides an annual spiritual development assessment to encourage everyone to pray about their commitment to the Lord and to our church. Grace Point Church keeps her membership role up to date and will practice church discipline as the Lord leads with sincerity, gentleness, and the goal of reconciling the erring member to Christ and His church.

#4: Grace Point is a gospel-centered church

Grace Point Church knows that all Scripture points to Jesus Christ (Luke 24:27, 44) from Genesis 1:1-Revelation 22:21. Our sermons, Bible studies, and gatherings will encourage us all to grow in our understanding, appreciation, growth, trust, and emulation of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ—preparing us for the return of Christ. We know that the Bible is not a rule book but rather a revelation of God Himself so we may come to know Him, live with Him, and live for Him.

#5: Grace Point is a church of sincere faith

Grace Point Church is currently experiencing growth and blessing from the Lord. And everyone knows that it is from the Lord. By God’s grace, we haven’t been trusting in ourselves to bring about this growth. We haven’t been seeking the newest church growth trends or fades. We haven’t been trying to play to the perceived needs of our culture. We all know that God has called us to be faithful and leave the results up to Him. And as we see this growth, we give God all the credit, honor, and praise for it. The growth hasn’t come because of the Lead Pastor, or the council of elders, or the diaconate. It has come as a grace from the Lord by the power of the Lord to change lives. Being with Grace Point encourages my faith and I think God will use them to encourage yours as well!

#6: Grace Point is a missional church

Grace Point Church desires to reach their neighbors and those on the other side of the world with the gospel. We’ve recently seen some of our members begin sharing the gospel for the first time. The membership evangelizes more than any other church I’ve served alongside. I am always filled with joy when I hear that even our members in their 90s are still sharing the gospel! In my short tenure here, we’ve had more organized evangelistic outreaches than I can count. Grace Point Church is committed to international mission work as well as local mission work. They are committed to praying, giving, and going on mission. They’ve sent teams to Africa, Malawi, Brazil, Ohio, and Michigan since they’ve constituted in 2016. We are looking forward to new partnerships in Romania, Uganda, and Northern Minnesota. I was greatly humbled when I saw our church listed as the 8th highest giving (per capita) church to the cooperative program (Southern Baptist missional giving efforts) in the state of Kentucky out of the 2,400+ churches that make up the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Because of generosity like that of the members of Grace Point, there are more missionaries in the field, more churches planted, more evangelistic encounters, and more pastors being trained—to the glory of God!

#7: Grace Point is an elder-led church

Many Baptist churches are led by a single pastor, by their deacons, or by their staff. However, the New Testament model is that every local church is led by a council of elders (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). The term elder is used interchangeably in the New Testament with the terms pastor and overseer. When you join Grace Point Church, your soul is shepherded not by one man, but by a council of mature, Christ-like men who are called of God to lead and teach the church in God’s Word. Grace Point currently has four elders. I am one of them, and I have utmost respect for the other three. I trust their spiritual discernment and insight and am grateful to shepherd Grace Point alongside them.

#8: Grace Point is currently experiencing great unity

Unity in a church is a delicate phenomenon that must be guarded carefully. Currently, there is an unusually sweet spirit at Grace Point Church. Everyone is encouraged and on the same page. By the grace of God, we are pulling together to worship God, make disciples for Jesus, and love one another. There is something so precious and refreshing about times of unity like Grace Point is experiencing from the Lord now (Psalm 133). Come and be refreshed with us!

#9: Grace Point is currently experiencing the movement of God in a unique way

Over the last few months, Grace Point has seen around six decisions made to trust Christ for salvation, we’ve received six new members with several others in the process of joining. We’ve had two baptisms with one more in the very near future. We’ve restarted our children’s ministry after the pandemic, had a child dedication, seen our Wednesday night services grow to near sixty in attendance, we’ve brought on staff a Minister of Youth and Administration, we’ve seen near weekly responses to the invitations in our worship services, and we have just voted to pay off our new fellowship hall immediately, so we are debt free. God has been so good to us at Grace Point! He is responsible for all these good things, and we want to praise Him for them!

#10: Grace Point is an exceptionally friendly and welcoming church

I’ve heard from several of our visitors that our church is extremely friendly. When you come in, you will likely be welcomed by several members. You will know that we want you here! Everyone who visits and fills out a connect card receives a Starbucks gift card in the mail to show them they are welcome at our church. One of our newer members said that our church can be described in one word, “home.” One man, who was the only African American man for a few Sundays said, “I know I’m the only black man here, but every time I come, I feel like I’m part of the family.” Whatever your ethnicity or economic situation, you will feel welcome at Grace Point. In our church, you won’t find “cliques” that you cannot join. You will find a family to which you can belong. You will find people who love to laugh together and people who are willing to cry together. I have found that in six months of being with Grace Point, I’ve laughed more than I had laughed in the last five years. At Grace Point, I know I belong. At Grace Point, you will find a place to belong.

#11: Grace Point has been built on a strong heritage of ministering to Henderson County and beyond

Grace Point Church came into existence in 2016 as two historic churches merged to form one new church. Those two churches were Immanuel Baptist Temple (IBT) and Audubon Baptist Church. Both churches came from Henderson’s First Baptist Church. Audubon Baptist Church was planted in 1892, originally at the corner of Letcher and Helm Streets. In 1988, Audubon Baptist moved to Grace Point’s current location on Zion Road. Audubon Baptist planted Hyland Baptist Church and Finley Baptist Church. IBT was planted in 1914 on 2nd Street near downtown Henderson. IBT planted Eastview Baptist Church, Watson Lane Baptist Church, and Lawndale Baptist Church as well as starting the Kathy L. Strange Answer Center located on Second Street. The two churches merged in order to more faithfully and strategically reach people for Christ with the resources God has provided. Merging churches is no easy task. Two churches must be willing to leave behind their identities in order to form a new church. However, such a sacrifice of identity to benefit and further the Kingdom of God speaks volumes about a church. Grace Point Church prioritizes God’s kingdom above personal preference, glory, authority, and identity. Now, Grace Point celebrates and builds upon the heritage of these historic churches while seeking God’s purposes in an unhindered way.

#12: Grace Point worships God well together

Worship is more than singing songs together. Worship is ethics: it’s how you live to show that God is worthy of living for. But the worship that happens together on Lord’s Day mornings should fuel our living for the Lord the rest of the week. It should help us experience the glory of God. The Grace Point Praise Band does an excellent job leading the church in praising God and reminding us of His greatness. When you come, you will feel free to worship God. You will feel free to raise your hands in worship or to cry in worship. I’ve yet to see anyone look bored during our worship services. One of the most soothing experiences I have every week is to look out at Grace Point after a long sermon and see everyone worshiping God sincerely. During the invitation, I see senior ladies, among others, raising their hands in worship. I see members singing heartily with smiles on their faces. I see people who, after an hour and fifteen minutes of Sunday School and another hour and fifteen minutes of worship are still in no hurry to leave. They love God and they love each other. Even at the end of the worship service, they want to keep singing His praises together!

This list could have been so much longer but I hope it has demonstrated why I am so blessed to be a member of Grace Point Church and that it has intrigued you to come and experience God’s grace with us.  As the New Year is upon us, would you make it your resolution to visit a Bible teaching church? If you live in Henderson County, please visit Grace Point. If you don’t, please find a church you can visit. If you’re already a member of another faithful church, will you recommit yourself to that church and worship God well with them? May God bless you as you seek Him with His people in 2022!

Relational Resolutions

I’m always excited for when a new year begins! I love to think about goals for the upcoming year. For me, it’s a time of introspection—a time for reviewing, refocusing, and renewing. I review the past year to see where I’m on track and where I’m off track. I refocus by reevaluating goals and life direction based on some guiding Bible verses like 1 Corinthians 10:31, Deuteronomy 6, Mark 12:28-34, and Matthew 28:16-20. Then, I renew by writing new goals and resolutions and start plans to fulfill them.

Often, we can get in the rut of making all of our goals and resolutions individual-oriented. Individual goals are important but we can also use this time of year to consider goals and resolutions that are relationally-oriented. First, you can consider your relationship with God. Are you as close to the Lord as He would like you to be right now? Unconfessed sin always leads us to distance ourselves from the Lord. However, listen to God’s promise, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous, so that He will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Ask the Holy Spirit to show you of any sin or activity that is causing a distance between you and God. Confess it and draw near to the Lord.

Second, you can consider your relationship with your family. Husbands and fathers, are you sacrificially leading your own families to love and know the Lord as Jesus does the church (Eph 5:25-33)? Wives, are you respecting and helping your husbands as the church does Christ (Eph 5:22-24, 33)? Parents, are you instructing your children in the ways of the Lord? Consider the command God gives parents, “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. And you shall repeat them diligently to your sons and speak of them when you sit in your house, when you walk on the road, when you lie down, and when you get up” (Dt 6:6-7; also see Eph. 6:4). Children, are you honoring and obeying your parents as the Lord commands (Ex. 20:12; Eph 6:1-3)? This is a wonderful time of year to recommit to loving your family in the way God guides us to.

Third, we can consider our relationship with our church family. This year has been particularly hard for churches due to the pandemic. However, the start of the New Year is a good time to consider a few questions: Am I praying for my church regularly? Is there some action I can take or commitment I can make to edify my church? Is there someone in my church with whom I need to seek reconciliation? Is there someone in my church I can encourage or comfort by reaching out to him or her? Paul says to the church of Philippi, “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility consider one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:1-5). This is a good time of year to renew our commitments to each other as a church in the Lord.

Fourth, you can consider your relationship with the lost. Were you praying for someone who needed salvation over the last year? Did you get to share with them? Is there someone for whom you need to begin praying for their salvation? Is there someone you can commit to share the gospel with this year? We are not responsible to make someone believe but we are responsible to the Lord to share others and invite them to believe in Jesus. Jesus said to His church, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and as far as the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Who will you witness to in 2021?

Fifth, we can consider our relationship with our community. How can you honor the Lord in your relationships with neighbors, coworkers, and others in Buchanan County and the surrounding counties? God desires that His people are good citizens wherever they live or sojourn. God told Israel when they were exiled in Babylon, they were to “Seek the prosperity of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord in its behalf; for in its prosperity will be your prosperity’” (Jer 29:7) and Paul urged “that requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made in behalf of all people, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:1-4). How can you, your family, and our church family bless our community?

May God bless you and your relationships in 2021!

An Applied Theology of Ordination into Public Gospel Ministry

Ordination is a cause of great joy among a local church. While in ordination, a church sometimes has the sadness of not seeing the man whom they ordain and his family as often, they gain the great joy and comfort of knowing that God has and is using their church to spread His Word to others through the one they ordain. They have the peace and satisfaction of knowing that through ordination, in part, they are obeying Christ’s Great Commission (Mt 28:16-20) and presenting a pleasing offering to the Lord.

Christ’s Charge to Peter, Raphael, 1515

So what does it mean to ordain someone into gospel ministry? This kind of ordination is a church’s formal recognition of God’s calling on a man’s life into the public ministry of the Word of God and that church’s endorsement of the man’s character, doctrine, and ability to teach. Ordination should be understood as the result of a candidate and his church discerning God’s will together. Typically, but not always, when a church ordains someone into gospel ministry, it is an act of sending him elsewhere to minister the Word (Acts 13:1-4).

The first step of ordination is initiated by God when He calls a man into the public ministry of the Word (Is. 6:6-9). Then, the one whom God has called receives what pastoral theologians often describe as an inner calling. This inner calling is an internal realization of the great necessity (Lk 4:43), significant burden (1 Cor 9:16-17), and growing desire (1 Tim 3:1) for the work. Pastors and preachers must have this inner calling or they will not endure in the work because of its many difficulties. Common advice pastors give to those considering whether they are called is, “If you can do anything else and be content, don’t enter the ministry.” This advice is given because seasoned pastors know that this inner calling will not allow for contentment in any other vocation.

The second step of ordination is when the man who is experiencing an inner calling acknowledges that inner calling to his local church. If his church believes he may be called and that he possess the godliness of character (1 Tim 3:1-7), they typically license him into gospel ministry as a “tentative approval…to serve until he has proven himself qualified for ordination” (Vansant Baptist Church Constitution, Section 1). Then, the candidate will accept as many opportunities to preach and teach as he can and the church will observe him to find evidence of God’s calling on his life.

When the candidate and the church believe that sufficient evidence has been given, they begin the process of ordination. Ordination is a manifestation of what pastoral theologians often describe as the outer calling. The outer calling is when a local church, discerning the Holy Spirit’s leading, acknowledges and recognizes God’s calling on the man’s life for public ministry of the Word.

The third step of ordination is when the church formally enters the process of ordination. But how does God desire a church to go about ordaining someone? This process must be undertaken with reverence and without a hint of flippancy. A church should be very cautious and patient when it comes to ordaining preachers. God will hold a church accountable for the sins of the preacher whom they ordain without proper inspection (1 Tim 5:22).

Further, God expects others who have received the calling to examine the candidates’ fitness of character, soundness of doctrine, and aptness to teach (Acts 13:1-3; 1 Cor 14:29, 32-33). In the New Testament, every church had multiple pastors so they were able to examine a candidate entirely “in-house.” Yet today, many Baptist churches have one pastor. Therefore, to allow for this examination by others who have the same calling, most Baptist churches will invite other pastors and preachers to serve as or on an Ordination Council.

The Ordination Council will examine a candidate and makes a recommendation to the church about whether to ordain the man or not. Because of the nature of the church, individuals (such as a pastor or preacher), nor subsets of the church (such as boards), nor an Ordination Council, nor a denominational entity (such as a seminary, convention, or mission board) have authority to ordain. The local church is the one whom Christ has given the authority and responsibility to ordain. Every local church must recognize and submit to Christ as her head (Col 1:18) and must strive to ensure that only those who are genuinely born again and are therefore led by the Holy Spirit, are church members. As these Spirit-led members seek to discern God’s will together, the Holy Spirit will guide them to a consensus which is often expressed by a vote. This local church authority is acted out in the New Testament as local churches practiced church discipline (Mt 18:15-20, 1 Cor 5:2), restored repentant members who were disciplined (2 Cor 2:6-7), baptized new believers into membership (Acts 2:41), ordained deacons (Acts 6:3), sent missionaries (Acts 13:2-3), and corrected false teaching (Acts 15:22). Jesus built His church on the foundation of the Apostles and prophets (Eph 2:20) and expressed His investment of authority upon local churches to discern and act upon His will in the terms of binding and loosing (Mt 16:13-19; 18:15-20).

The fourth step in ordination is that the church’s membership, after receiving a recommendation from the Ordination Council, will decide whether to ordain. If the church votes to ordain a man into public gospel ministry, they will set aside time to pray for him and lay hands on him, symbolizing that the church is placing a great deal of trust and responsibility in the man to do what God has called him to do (1 Tim. 5:22; Acts 13:1-3). Ordination is the result of a local church body discerning God’s calling of a man into public gospel ministry.

Assurance of Salvation

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns us that many people think they are saved but they actually are not (Matthew 7:21-23). John wrote his first letter in order to help Christians find assurance of their faith (1 John 5:13). Writing to the Corinthians, Paul directed, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves.”

We realize that Jesus and His Apostles want us to check our salvation. This is a healthy and faithful practice for Christians to do occasionally. But how do we do that? In order to check our salvation and be assured that we are indeed saved, we must ask ourselves two questions.

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First, have I trusted Jesus rightly?

We must look to those passages of the Bible that guide us to understand the gospel and check to see if we have trusted and obeyed as they direct. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Have you believed in Jesus? Romans 10:9, 13 says, “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…for ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” Lord means master; the One you obey and let guide your life. Have you confessed Jesus as Lord? Jesus said, “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5). Have you repented of your sins? Repentance is the immediate effect that takes place when the Holy Spirit regenerates your heart when you place faith in Christ. Below is a guide to help you answer this first question.

  1. I first heard about Jesus and His death and resurrection when ____________________________ shared it with me.
  2. I placed my trust in Jesus, confessed Him as Lord, and called on His name in prayer on ______________________ (date or age) when I was at ________________________ (location).
  3. Circle one of each option: During this time, I realized/did not realize that I was a sinner and separated from God and awaiting His just condemnation of me. I turned away/did not turn away from my sin and turned toward/did not turn toward God and His direction for my life.

Second, does my life give evidence of Spirit-empowered change?

As a misunderstanding of the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith, some have wrongly supposed that salvation can result in little interruption of one’s daily life. The Bible, however, warns us that a genuine conversion results in a transformed and transforming life. Paul teaches, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?” (1 Corinthians 6:9). John tells us how to have assurance of salvation. He states, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him…” (1 John 2:3-4).

All of this is consistent with the Old Testament prophecy of salvation which teaches that when one rightly believes in Jesus, God sends His Spirit into his heart and transforms him to love God and God’s ways so as to obey God’s commands (Ezekiel 36:27). In the Christian life, there will be ups and downs. There will be two steps forward and one step back. However, every genuine Christian should be able to see a progressive change in his life toward greater love for God and greater obedience to God over time. Here is a guide to help you answer the second question:

  1. Sins that I used to commit but no longer or rarely do are _______________________________.
  2. Godly practices I used to neglect but now are mostly faithful in are _______________________.
  3. Sinful desires I used to be drawn to but now are not drawn to or are lesser drawn to are ________________________________.
  4. Godly desires that I used to be apathetic towards but now have a passion for are _____________________________.

May God bless you in Christ Jesus as you examine your confession and transformation to find assurance of salvation. If you would like to discuss salvation further, please email me at egfannin@gmail.com.

Biblical Direction for a New Year

As we look to the New Year, I am filled with excitement about the possibilities that a new year brings.  I often consider the goals and resolutions from the previous year (some of which I have successfully completed and a few I have not) and I look forward to the future.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, warned us that life is like a vapor—here today, gone tomorrow. When we consider it, our lives are short. That’s why we must make the most of our time and seek the Lord’s will (James 4:14). We don’t know what the Lord will allow us to accomplish each year or what situations He will allow to come our way. However, we do know that He is in control and that He wants us to be using this time to serve and honor Him. But what guidance does the Bible provide for us in considering the direction of our lives for 2020?

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First, Jesus gave us the motive—love. When asked which commandment is greatest, He answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The first commandment is a quotation from Deuteronomy 6:4-5. In this quotation, Jesus summed up the first four of the Ten Commandments. The second greatest commandment, Jesus quoted from Leviticus 19:18 and this commandment sums up the last six of the Ten Commandments. Jesus’ point is that in all our efforts we should seek to love God and others by obeying God’s Word toward them. So as you look to the possibilities of the future, will you ask, “How can I love God and others in accordance with God’s Word in 2020?”

Second, Jesus gave us the mission—make disciples. When someone gives you his last words, those words are usually extremely significant. Some of Jesus’ last words to His disciples are found in Matthew 28:18-20, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The main command of this passage is “make disciples.” That means to guide people to become followers of Jesus. Jesus used three others words to describe how we are to make disciples: going, baptizing, and teaching. Going means that we have to make intentional effort to go to people and places we normally would not go. Baptizing is the symbolic act of showing that someone has come into the family of God. It is about bringing someone into our church family and caring for them. Teaching them means that we are to explain God’s Word to them and exhort them to obey it. As you look to the new year, will you ask yourself, “How can I make disciples for Jesus in 2020? Who can I pray for about salvation? Who can I share the gospel with? How can I care for my brothers and sisters in Christ? How can I encourage others to study God’s Word and obey it?”

Third, Jesus gave us guidance—the Bible. Before He was crucified, Jesus promised His disciples, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come (John 16:12-13). This passage is primarily about the Holy Spirit inspiring the Apostles of Jesus to write the New Testament. As born-again Christians read the Bible today, He gives us the desire to obey what He inspired to be written. This is why Peter tells us that God has provided all we need for life and godliness through the Bible (2 Peter 1:2-3, 19-21) and Paul says the Bible is “able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” and the Bible “is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15-17). Jesus provided the Bible so that we would know how to love God and others and how to make disciples for Him. As you prepare for the New Year, will you ask if your goals are valuing the things that the Bible values? Will you ask if your goals are obeying the commands of the Bible? As you look over your New Year’s resolutions, will you consider if you have neglected some command of our Lord’s Word?

Finally, Jesus gave us a promise—grace. As we seek to glorify and honor Christ the short time we have in 2020, we will likely have set backs and struggles. As we do, we do not need to get discouraged. Jesus has come to show us “grace upon grace” (John 1:16). First, as Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to work hard for the glory of God and the well-being of the church of Ephesus, He reassured him. “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and discipline” (2 Tim 1:7). Thank God for being right there with you. Ask Him to keep you from fear and to grow the power, love, and discipline in you that He has already provided so that you can serve Him in 2020. Also, John teaches us about the grace of Christ, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). In 2020, when times arise that you fail to glorify Christ by disobeying His Word, run to Him in confession—He will forgive and cleanse you.

May God bless you and your family in 2020!

Are You Hindering Your Prayers?

Have you ever considered the power that is available to us through prayer? In prayer, we can reach out to the One who made the entire universe. James reminds us of Elijah’s powerful prayers when he states, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit” (James 5:17-18). Jesus teaches His disciples that by prayer, they can cast out demons and move mountains (Matthew 17:14-21). Through prayer we may receive healing (2 Kings 20:1-5) and seek healing for others (Acts 28:7-10). The early church received boldness to share the gospel as a result of their prayers (Acts 4:23-31).

This power would not be available to us if it had not been for the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Our sins had separated us from God so that He would not hear our prayers (Isaiah 59:1-2). Yet, for those who trust in Jesus, God forgives their sins and hears their prayers (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Apart from saving faith in Christ, God does not hear anyone’s prayers. But the moment a person believes on Jesus Christ for salvation, God hears his or her cry. Therefore, we have a costly and precious gift to thank God for in our ability to pray.

Yet, we also realize that as believers, we can hinder our prayers.  Therefore we want to be cautious and take time to evaluate our lives and prayers to make sure that they are unhindered. I’d like to share four ways we can hinder our prayers.

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First, you can hinder your prayers by unrepentant sin. James says, “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16). Is there unconfessed sin in your life? Is there a habit in your life that cannot be described as “righteous”? Confess your sins to the Lord and confess them to a trusted brother or sister in Christ that he or she may also pray for you. Healing does not come without confessing our sins. Peter likewise communicates that sinful behavior hinders our prayers. He warns, “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way…so that your prayers will not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7).

Second, you can hinder your prayers by praying with wrong, worldly motives. James states, “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? (James 4:2-4). Christians are called to put to death the desires of our flesh (Colossians 3:5). It is a strange and inappropriate request when a Christian prays with worldly desires for worldly gain. What desires have been driving your prayers lately? Are you seeking the things above or the things below?

Third, you can hinder your prayers by neglecting to pray in Jesus’ name. John records Jesus’ teaching: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:12-14). What does it mean to pray “in Jesus’ name”? It doesn’t just mean to tag the phrase “in Jesus’ name” on the end of your prayer before you say “Amen.” It means to pray in accordance with Jesus’ character and will. It means to pray a prayer that pleases Him. When God saves us, He changes us so that we start to desire obedience to Him above all else (Ezekiel 36:27). Are your prayers driven by a desire to please, honor, and obey Jesus? Are you praying for the salvation of the lost? Are you praying for the maturity of the church? One preacher said, “I fear that we spend more time praying saints out of heaven than we do praying sinners in.” Now, I don’t want to discourage us from praying for physical healing—that is very important and God cares for our physical situation (1 Peter 5:7). But praying for the salvation of the lost and the obedience of the saved are even greater concerns.

Fourth, we hinder our prayers by having little faith in Jesus. When a man whose son was demon possessed came to Jesus to request healing for his son, Jesus responded, “All things are possible to him who believes.” The man cried out, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” When Jesus’ disciples asked why they could not cast the demon out, Jesus responded, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:14-28). God desires to answer prayers that are asked with faith in Jesus Christ. I think it greatly honors the Lord when we pray like the man whose son was demon-possessed. Will you pray, “I do believe, help my unbelief”? Remember, it is impossible to please God without faith in Jesus (Hebrews 11:6).

Do you want to be a prayer warrior like Epaphras who wrestled in prayer for the Colossians? (Col 4:12). How would such a prayer life affect your family? How would it affect your church and community? Consider the great power we have when we pray unhindered prayers to the One who created everything! Happy praying!

False Gospels of Appalachia

Our church recently hosted an evangelism conference called The Proclaimer Conference. At this conference, I led a breakout session entitled False Gospels of Appalachia which focused on identifying and responding to false gospels which one may run into while sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in Appalachia. This breakout session was well-attended and well-received. My fear has been that people would attend my breakout only to satiate a curiosity about Appalachian culture. However, my goal has been to offer practical help for those sharing the gospel in a very religious (but not necessarily regenerate) American subculture. Due to time constraints, I had to limit my discussion to seven false gospels prominent in Appalachia (and particularly Central Appalachia). In the discussion of each false gospel, I provide a description, problems, typical indicators, Biblical and theological corrections, and a response. I’ve had a few people who could not attend the conference or the breakout session who asked for my notes and so I have decided to publish them here.

My original notes (which I provided for the attenders) were rough and needed some small revisions which I have made in what is provided here. As I continue to learn and teach on this topic, I will likely keep revising. These notes are not intended to be academic writing as they were prepared for presentation in the setting of a local church. As I taught the breakout, I added personal illustrations of dealing with these false gospels. My notes are largely based on my experience as an Appalachian pastor. I hope you find them to be helpful in considering how you share the gospel among this people group of whom some will join the eternal meta-cultural chorus for eternity (Revelation 5:9-10; 7:9-10), hopefully with mountain dulcimers, banjos, and fiddles in hand.

Discover the beauty of Appalachia on a Smoky Mountains hiking trip

False Gospels of Appalachia

Presented at Vansant Baptist Church in Vansant, VA for The Proclaimer Conference on June 28, 2019.


Common Thinking Concerning Doctrine

  • “Our church doesn’t focus on doctrine we just worship the Lord.”
  • “Doctrine is divisive!”
  • “I don’t care much about studying doctrine. I want to get down to the practical.”
  • How do you react to the above statements?

New Testament Thinking Concerning Doctrine

  • 1 Timothy 4:16, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”
  • Jude 3, “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”
  • 2 John 7-11, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.”
  • Galatians 1:6-9, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”
  • Matthew 24:11, “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.”
  • How important is doctrine according to Jesus, the Apostles, and the other NT writers?

False Gospels Prominent in Appalachia

  • The following is not a comprehensive list of the false gospels you will find in Appalachia.
    • Nor are all of these false gospels unique to Appalachian culture.
    • However, they tend to be prominent here.
  • When sharing the gospel, you will likely run into them.
    • Many of these false gospels are not always easy to recognize. Those who hold to them will make statements or actions that will feel odd to gospel-sharers. You will likely feel like “something is off but I just can’t place my finger on it.”
    • Remember, the best lies are those that are mixed with truth and twisted with truth.
    • e.g. – Genesis 3:1, 4
    • e.g.. – Luke 4:3, 6, 9-11 (cf. Psalm 91:11-12)

Easy Believism

  1. Description
    1. This false gospel teaches that salvation can come by faith (usually expressed through a prayer) that does not result in real life change.
    2. It rightly acknowledges that a person is justified by faith alone.
    3. Yet, it misunderstands the nature of faith and spiritual regeneration.
    4. Therefore, the faith it teaches is a false faith—an unbiblical kind of faith.
  2. Problem
    1. This false gospel gives a person false hope. He think because he ‘walked the aisle’ and ‘prayed a prayer’ he is right with God and is going to heaven. Therefore, the person has no urgency to become right with God.
    2. The lack of Biblical faith leaves the person in a state of lostness and under God’s wrath.
  3. Typical indicators
    1. A lack of repentance at the time of “decision” and a lack of life change after
    2. A disregard and neglect of the local church
    3. A life that is centered on something other than Christ
    4. A lack of concern for God’s will and obedience to God’s Word
    5. A conscience that lacks conviction when remaining in a sinful state
  4. Biblical and Theological Corrections
    1. Ezekiel 36:26-27, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”
      1. Genuine faith is the means of salvation but not the cause of salvation
        1. God dispenses saving grace when a person genuinely trusts in Jesus
      2. Spiritual regeneration is the cause of salvation
        1. At the moment of faith, the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit into the heart of the new believer causing the immediate aspects of salvation to take place.
      3. Matthew 12:33-35, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil.”
        1. Jesus expresses that a change of behavior gives evidence of one’s changed nature.
        2. One who remains the same after “making a decision for Christ,” has not placed Biblical faith in Jesus.
      4. Mark 8:34-37, “And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
        1. Biblical faith calls for and causes personal denial in order that God’s purposes might be fulfilled.
      5. Romans 10:9, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
        1. Paul reveals here that Biblical faith recognizes Jesus as both Lord and Savior.
        2. A person must come to Jesus on Jesus’ terms, not on man’s terms.
          1. In other words, Jesus is not like a lunch buffet—one cannot pick and choose what he wants Jesus to be.
          2. If Jesus is not Lord to a person, He will never be a Savior to that person.
        3. James 1: 26; 2:14, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless… What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?”
          1. Biblical faith results in behavior that is pleasing to God
        4. A good resource concerning genuine saving faith: Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards.
  5. Addressing the Heresy
    1. Call sinners to repentance
      1. Genuine saving faith always results in immediate repentance
    2. Be careful with the terms you use in speaking about salvation:
      1. “Faith” and “believe” are terms that have been appropriated in many ways in our culture and so have lost a great deal of power to communicate.
        1. “Trust” is term that better fits the Biblical idea of faith
      2. “Be saved” like the two previous terms has been widely appropriated and makes it difficult to communicate clearly.
        1. The person you’re sharing with may have a very different idea of “be saved” than you have.
        2. Also, if you use this term, you will need to explain it:
          1. Saved from what?
          2. By who?
          3. How?
      3. “Invite Jesus into your heart” cannot communicate the full significance of conversion.
        1. If you use this phrase, be sure to supplement it to include the other aspects of conversion.
      4. “Pray the prayer of salvation” may lead someone to think of prayer like a magical incantation which causes salvation.
        1. Be cautious in using this kind of language and explain that prayer is an expression of the faith.
        2. The prayer has no power in itself to save.
      5. “Surrender in faith” is a helpful expression which communicates well the ideas behind Biblical conversion to our culture.
      6. “Born again” can be a helpful term which is Biblical, communicates the change that happens, and can often open up the doors for a conversation.
        1. However, be ready to explain this term as it will often need unpacked.
    3. Be loving and honest.
      1. If someone is in the eternal danger of condemnation, we want warn them with love.
      2. It is sometimes appropriate to tell someone that his life does not match up with what the Bible says a saved person’s life will look like. God may use you to lead them to genuine salvation.
        1. 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?”

Additions to or Substitutions of Christ’s Work


  1. Description
    1. Legalism is the requiring of (or belief in the requirement of) something in addition to faith in Jesus as a means to salvation.
      1. The requirement is typically a commandment of God which is turned into an attempt to earn favor with God. Appropriate obedience driven by gratitude for salvation has been abandoned.
    2. Legalism is not holding God’s commands in high regard and desiring to obey God. Nor is it expecting that churches and individual believers will desire to obey God’s commands. Obedience is an important sign of Biblical faith—not a sign of legalism.
    3. Whereas Easy Believism (at least practically) denies the necessity of work as evidence of salvation, legalism requires some sort of work as a means to salvation. Both heresies confuse the relationship of works and salvation.
  1. Problem
    1. Legalism underestimates the holiness and justice of God.
    2. Legalism denies the significance of original sin and the doctrine of total depravity resulting in an overestimation of mankind’s ability to obey God.
    3. Legalism does not acknowledge one of the primary functions of God’s Law—to reveal man’s inability to live up to God’s standards.
    4. This results in a denial of the sufficiency of Christ’s work.
    5. The faith that one has in Christ is not a Biblical faith and therefore, the person is still dead in his trespasses and sins and destined for condemnation.
  2. Typical Indicators
    1. A focus on one or a few acts of obedience (or added human rules) above all others
    2. A self-righteous attitude
    3. Lack of compassion toward those who genuinely trust in Jesus
    4. A prioritizing of seeing another condemned over guiding another to repentance and faith
      1. Think of the older brother in Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15)
  3. Biblical and Theological Corrections
    1. Galatians 2:16, “nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.”
      1. Context: Judaizers (a type of Judeo-Christian legalists) had entered the Galatian church and were teaching that faith and circumcision were both necessary in order to be right with God.
        1. Consider the similar problem in Colossae when Paul responded in Colossians 2:16-3:4.
      2. The term justified is dikaioō which means to make righteous or to declare innocent
      3. God requires a righteousness that we cannot attain on our own efforts
        1. This was Jesus’ point in Matthew 5:20, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”God imputes righteousness to those who surrender to Jesus in faith
    2. Galatians 3:2-5, “This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?”
      1. Paul’s argument here is that since a person can only come into a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus, the only way to continue in salvation is to have faith in Jesus.
    3. Galatians 3:21-22; 24, “For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe… Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”
      1. Paul continues his argument by explaining that the Mosaic Law was given to show mankind that we cannot earn God’s favor because we are unable to meet God’s standard.
      2. Therefore, the right response to the Mosaic Law is to humble oneself and cry out to God for a way of salvation. God provided the only way of salvation through Jesus Christ.
    4. Ephesians 2:8-10, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
      1. Paul briefly and clearly states that salvation cannot be merited by doing good works.
      2. Rather, salvation is attained only by grace provided through means of faith in Jesus.
      3. Verse ten explains that true salvation causes a person come under the craftsmanship of God in such a way that he is recreated into an obedient Jesus-follower.
  1. Addressing the Heresy:
    1. Explain the concept of grace thoroughly
      1. In the context of salvation, the Greek word grace (charis) speaks of God’s compassion and favor toward those who, realizing their inability to meet God’s standard, humbly trust in Jesus Christ.
      2. Grace, by its very nature, cannot be earned or merited.
    2. Explain that God’s standard for acceptance is perfect righteous motives, attitudes, and actions.
      1. Revelation 21:8, “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
        1. No one can say that he has always avoided these sins.
        2. Yet, those who have committed these sins will be eternally condemned.
      2. James 2:10-13, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”
        1. James shows that, at the breaking of one command of God, the person has become a law-breaker to God.
      3. Guide the person to acknowledge that he has not met God’s standard
        1. The Ten Commandments can be helpful in this. Go through them one by one and ask the person if he has ever broken them, even once.
        2. Jesus used some of them in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) to help the people realize that they could not meet God’s righteous standard. He focused on the attitude of the heart which results in the fruit of disobedience to the commandments.

Moralistic Salvation

  1. Description
    1. Moralistic salvation is very much like the heresy of legalism.
      1. However, unlike legalism, moralistic salvation is more focused on interactions with other people rather than following God’s commands or man-made religious rules.
    2. Those who hold to a moralistic salvation believe that because they do not harm others and/or because they do good for others, God will accept them.
  2. Problem
    1. This heresy faces similar problems to legalism.
    2. God’s holiness and justice are severely underestimated.
    3. Man’s ability to be good and righteous is greatly overestimated.
    4. Those who hold this view think they do not need reconciliation with God because they do enough good to keep on God’s good side.
    5. As a result, they are children of God’s wrath and will be eternal condemned.
  3. Typical Indicators
    1. This type of heresy is common in civic organizations and fraternal orders.
    2. I often call this The Good Ol’ Boy Salvation.
    3. Those who hold to a moralistic salvation tend to focus on actions which are perceived as good in their community
    4. Likewise, they will avoid things that are perceived as bad or hurtful by their community.
    5. Because this heresy does not focus on God’s direction, it tends toward a pragmatic attitude (i.e. “Ends justify the means” or “Let’s do whatever it takes” or “it doesn’t matter how you do it as long as you get it done”)
    6. When asked about their need for salvation, those who hold this view may indicate that they’ve never done anything that bad or that they’ve never really hurt anyone.
  4. Biblical and Theological Corrections
    1. Genesis 3: the first man and woman rebelled against God which caused a comprehensive corruption to enter into creation and especially all of mankind.
    2. Romans 5:12, 15b,18a, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned… by the transgression of the one the many died…So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men”
      1. All mankind descended from Adam and Eve.
      2. Conception did not take place until after the Fall of Genesis 3.
      3. Therefore, all mankind inherited a sinful nature from the first parents.
      4. All mankind agrees with that sinful nature by committing sin.
    3. Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”
    4. Isaiah 64:6, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”
      1. Mankind’s attitudes, beliefs, and actions are corrupted and unacceptable to God.
    5. Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”
    6. God will accept no one apart from Biblical faith in Jesus Christ.
    7. Matthew 19:16-26: The rich young ruler thought of himself as a basically good person. Yet, Jesus showed him that His heart was not surrendered to God. He needed God to save and change Him.
    8. Romans 3:10-18: Paul quotes several OT passages to show the universality of mankind’s depravity.
  1. Addressing the Heresy
    1. This heresy can be addressed in the same way as legalism. However, it may be prudent to discuss grace after addressing God’s perfect standard and their inability to meet that standard.

Sacramental Salvation

  1. Description
    1. Sacramental salvation is a heresy in which one believes that God dispenses saving grace as the person participates in religious activities—especially activities known to these groups as sacraments or ordinances.
      1. Such activities seen to be the means of saving grace may include baptism, Lord’s Supper (aka Eucharist, Communion), foot washing, speaking in tongues (aka glossolalia), confession, confirmation, etc.
    2. Doctrinal Statements of those who espouse this heresy:
      1. “While, then, baptism is ordained for remission of sins, and for no other specific purpose, it is not as a procuring cause, as a meritorious or efficient cause, but as an instrumental cause, in which faith and repentance are developed and made fruitful and effectual in the changing of our state and spiritual relations to the Divine Persons whose names are put upon us in the very act” (Alexander Campbell, Christian Baptism, 256).
      2. “[T]he immediate duty of men pricked in the heart by a sense of guilt is to repent and be baptized; we would also know that this is what we are to do to be delivered from our guilt…remission of sins follows baptism, and is therefore to be expected by the baptized…the second blessing promised on condition of repentance and baptism, is the ‘gift of the Holy Spirit.’” (J.W. McGravy, New Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, 38-39).
      3. “The fourth and final condition for salvation in the NT age is baptism…Most importantly, we affirm that the clear and specific teaching of the NT is that baptism is the time during which God graciously bestows upon the sinner the double cure of salvation. As such it is a divinely appointed condition for salvation during this New Covenant Era” (Jack Cottrell, The Faith Once for All, 359-362).
      4. “The saving gospel is the good news that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again. We obey the gospel (II Thessalonians 1:8; I Peter 4:17) by repentance (death to sin), water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ (burial), and the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the initial sign of speaking in tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance (resurrection). (See I Corinthians 15:1-4; Acts 2:4, 37-39; Romans 6:3-4.)” (Our Beliefs, https://www.upci.org/about/our-beliefs, retrieved on June 28, 2019).
      5. “SALVATION consists of deliverance from sin through the blood of Christ. This is accomplished by REPENTANCE from sin, WATER BAPTISM IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST for the remission (forgiveness) of sins, and receiving the BAPTISM OF THE HOLY GHOST with the evidence of speaking in other tongues, and the continuance of a godly life (Acts 2:26-41)” (Doctrine Statement, http://aljc.org/doctrine-statement, retrieved on June 28, 2019).
  1. Problem
    1. The participant must do something more (other than trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior) in order to coax God into saving him.
    2. This heresy rejects the sufficiency of Christ’s work
      1. Jesus’ death and resurrection were not enough to earn a sinner’s salvation
      2. Jesus’ ability as High Priest is often rejected
        1. Another mediator is needed between God and man.
        2. Either a church or a minister becomes the mediator between God and the sinner.
  2. Typical Indicators
    1. Requiring a process in which one must go through before being declared “saved.”
      1. This process is often communicated as certain “conditions” of salvation.
    2. The belief that salvation is attained at the “occasion” of the religious act rather than at the time one places faith in Jesus.
    3. An overemphasis upon “the church” in the process of salvation.
      1. The church is typically underemphasized in American culture at large in a very unbiblical way, yet with some of these groups, the church is necessary in imparting salvation upon the candidate.
  3. Biblical and Theological Corrections
    1. Some of these groups point to the book of Acts in order to give Biblical evidence for their conditions for salvation.
      1. However, they confuse Luke’s intention in writing Acts.
        1. They often treat Acts as a Treatise on the doctrine of salvation.
        2. Rather, Luke’s intention is to show Christ’s work continued by the Holy Spirit through the church.
        3. In the book of Acts, Luke reveals a close association between faith, repentance, receiving the Holy Spirit, baptism, and forgiveness of sins. However, Luke portrays these aspects of Christian faith in differing orders throughout Acts.
        4. Luke was not attempting to give conditions or to teach the process of salvation in the kind of way that Paul does in Romans.
    2. Titus 3:5-7, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
      1. Paul reminds the church in Crete (through Titus) that salvation is bestowed not through works we do but by God’s grace.
      2. Here, Paul uses the image of washing to portray salvation.
        1. This provides evidence that ritual washings such as baptism are symbols (not conditions) of the spiritual reality—a cleansing of the soul by the Holy Spirit.
    3. 1 Timothy 2:5-6, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.”
      1. Since there is one mediator between God and man—Jesus Christ, any doctrine of salvation which promotes a person other than Christ or a group of people who must perform an act upon the sinner for salvation to be enacted, rejects Christ as a sufficient High Priest and offers up a false and ineffective mediator.
    4. Romans 4:4-5, “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”
      1. Paul is explaining that God’s covenant signs do not act as a means of salvation.
      2. Rather, faith alone is the means of salvation.
      3. Paul uses Abraham as an example that God imputes righteousness unto salvation at the time of the sinner’s faith. The sign of that salvation (in Abraham’s case, circumcision) only comes after faith begins and only after salvation has been granted.
  1. Addressing the Heresy
    1. Explain the sufficiency of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for salvation.
      1. While most of these groups state this explicitly, their practice and teachings regarding appropriating salvation contradict these statements.
    2. Focus on passages that address faith in Jesus as opposed to works, covenant signs, or religious actions, as the means for obtaining salvation.
    3. Refute the claim that Luke is attempting to show the procedure for procuring salvation in the book of Acts.
      1. New Testament scholar Robert Stein provides a helpful analogy of Luke’s portrayal of salvation and the events associated with salvation in Acts. He describes salvation in Acts as a wedding. Many elements are part of the ceremony and wedding day (weddings clothes, wedding party, walking down the aisle, wedding music, the exchanging of rings, the reception). Yet, these elements do not make two people married. One event amidst all of these creates a life-long marriage—the covenant vows. In the similar way, faith is like the vow. It is the means of being saved. Baptism is like the exchanging of the rings—a sign of the covenant but not the means for making the covenant. (Robert Stein, “Baptism in Luke-Acts” in Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, edited by Thomas Schreiner and Shawn Wright).


  1. Description
    1. Universalism is the belief that God will eventually save everyone.
    2. Such a belief makes faith in Jesus unnecessary for salvation.
    3. In central Appalachia, Primitive Baptist Universalists (PBU) teach this doctrine.
      1. There are only four PBU associations: Regular Primite Baptist Washington District Association, the Three Forks of Powell’s River Regular Primitive Baptist Association, and two Elkhorn Primitive Baptist Associations.
      2. PBU churches exist in the Southwest Virginia Counties of Buchanan, Tazwell, Russell, Dickenson, Wise, Scott, and Lee
    4. The other PBU churches can be found in the greater Tri-cities area of Northeastern Tennessee, Letcher County, KY, and McDowell and Greenbrier Counties in WV.
    5. PBU beliefs:
      1. PBU churches do not believe in a real, personal Satan. Instead, Satan is natural man fighting against spiritual man.
      2. God’s punishment for sin is only given in the present world and time. Hell is the suffering which mankind undergoes while on earth. Hell is not an eternal reality.
        1. This doctrine is while they are called “No-Hellers.” Yet, PBU churches consider this term a misnomer.
      3. Mankind is sinful and needs salvation which is only provided by the atonement of Jesus.
      4. Yet, Jesus’ atonement is universally applied to all mankind, regardless of faith.
      5. Therefore, all mankind will live in heaven.
      6. For more information, see Howard Dorgan’s In the Hands of a Happy God: The “No-Hellers” of Central Appalachia which can be checked out of the Buchanan County Library.
  2. Not all Primitive Baptists are PBU—only the ones mentioned above.
    1. Primitive Baptist churches began in the 1820s, influenced by the teachings of Daniel Parker as a reaction against the missionary movement.
      1. Parker taught that there were “two seeds” one from Adam from which the elect came, and one from the serpent from which the reprobate (those who were predestined by God for Hell) came.
    2. The tenants that would give rise to Primitive Baptists churches were laid out in the Black Rock address of 1832.
  3. In the first decade of the 20th Century, Primitive Baptists rebuked one of the churches and elders for preaching universalism.
    1. “Resolved, that whereas, we have been troubled with the doctrine of universalism that we advise the churches that if they have any elders preaching such heresies, or members arguing it, that they admonish them to quit preaching it or talking it, and if they fail to hear them to withdraw fellowship from such, and especially we admonish Hale Creek church to admonish Elder M.L. Compton to refrain from such doctrine” (Minutes of the Washington District Primitive Baptist Association, 1907).
    2. Hale Creek Church is just a few miles East of Vansant. This false gospel (a type of universalism) started just a couple miles from our church!
    3. In 1924, the Washington District Association of Primitive Baptists split into “Heller” and “No-Heller” sides. The PBU denomination was born. Among the Universalist congregations were: Hale Creek, Jerusalem, Looney’s Creek, New Garden, Pilgrim’s Rest, Prater Creek, Salem, Slate Creek, and Sumac Grove (Dorgan, In the Hands of a Happy God, 60).
  1. Problem
    1. PBU underestimates the holiness and justice of God.
    2. It also removes the urgency of the gospel message.
    3. The preaching of the gospel becomes unnecessary.
    4. PBU preaches a god of its own imagination rather than the holy and just God of the Bible.
  2. Typical Indicators
    1. A lack of urgency for the gospel message and salvation of souls.
    2. Unbiblical statements about Hell and the extent and appropriation of Christ’s atonement.
  3. Biblical and Theological Corrections
    1. Psalm 2:5-9, 12, “Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury, saying, “But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain. ‘I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Your possession. ‘You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware.’… Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!’
      1. Psalm 2 reveals a just and holy God who will significantly punish those who do not worship His Son.
      2. The “temporal Hell” of PBU is not as significant a punishment of which the Bible speaks.
    2. Proverbs 29:11, “Assuredly, the evil man will not go unpunished, But the descendants of the righteous will be delivered.”
      1. Consistent with Biblical teaching elsewhere, those who are not changed from their original evil nature will be punished.
    3. Matthew 25:31-33, 41, 46, “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left… “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels… These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
      1. Jesus taught of an eternal condemnation in which He will judge and condemn those who do not belong to Him.
    4. Revelation 20:14-15, “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
      1. John reveals a final judgment of all mankind in which those who have not received Christ are thrown into the eternal lake of fire to be tormented alongside Satan, the beast, and the false prophet.
    5. 1 John 2:1-2, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”
      1. While John may appear to teach a universalism here, as he teaches that Jesus’ death was for the whole world, elsewhere John made clear that such an atonement can only be appropriated by placing faith in Jesus.
      2. John 20:31, “but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”
    6. Romans 5:1-2, Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.”
      1. Justification is only appropriated through faith.
  4. Addressing the Heresy:
    1. Focus on the perfect justice and holiness of God.
    2. Explain from the Scriptures the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
    3. Finally, direct them to the clear teachings of Jesus on an eternal Hell.

Denials of the Trinity

Oneness Pentecostalism

  1. Description
    1. Oneness Pentecostalism (often known as “Jesus Only” is different than many forms of Unitarianism.
      1. Most forms of Unitarianism deny the divinity of Jesus Christ in some way or another.
      2. Oneness Pentecostalism is a form of modalism in which One God, who is one person, presents Himself in different roles.
    2. Some Oneness Pentecostal Statements:
      1. “There is only ONE GOD: the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and of all mankind. This One God, the I AM, is manifested (revealed) to mankind as FATHER (Creator), SON (Savior, 1 Jn.5:20), and HOLY GHOST (indwelling Spirit, Rom. 8:11). God is a Spirit (John 4:24), the Eternal One, the Creator of all things, and of all men. Thus making Him their Father (through creation, Malachi 2:10). The LORD is the FIRST and the LAST, and beside Him there is no God (Isa. 44:6)… The Holy Ghost is not the third person in the Godhead! The Holy Ghost is the Spirit, Jesus Christ coming to dwell in the hearts and lives of those who receive him. That is why, when speaking of the Spirit, Jesus said “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you” (John 14:16-26; Rom 8:9; 2 Cor.13:5). So, THERE ARE NOT THREE PERSONS IN GOD, but three manifestations of the ONE GOD. God is the Savior, and his saving name is now revealed to men as JESUS. Therefore JESUS is the name of God. SALVATION consists of deliverance from sin through the blood of Christ. This is accomplished by REPENTANCE from sin, WATER BAPTISM IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST for the remission (forgiveness) of sins, and receiving the BAPTISM OF THE HOLY GHOST with the evidence of speaking in other tongues, and the continuance of a godly life (Acts 2:26-41)” (Doctrine Statement, http://aljc.org/doctrine-statement/, retrieved on June 28, 2019).
      2. “The beautiful message of Scripture is that our Creator became our Savior. The God against whom we sinned is the One who forgives us. God loved us so much that He came in flesh to save us. He gave of Himself; He did not send someone else. Moreover, our Creator-Savior is also the indwelling Spirit who is ever-present to help us. God told us how to live and then came to live among us. He showed us how to live in the flesh and laid down His human life to purchase our salvation. Now He abides within us and enables us to live according to His will. Jesus Christ is the one God incarnate, and in Him we have everything we need: healing, deliverance, victory, and salvation (Colossians 2:9-10). By recognizing the almighty God in Jesus Christ, we restore correct biblical belief and experience apostolic power” (About Oneness Pentecostalism, http://www.upci.org/about/about-oneness-pentecostalism, retrieved on June 28, 2019).
    3. According to Tal Davis, of the North American Mission Board, Oneness Pentecostal movements teach that to receive and maintain salvation, a person must:
      1. Place faith in Jesus only: “Oneness teachers would agree that salvation requires putting one’s full faith in the Jesus of Oneness doctrine, that is the Jesus who is the totality of the Godhead, who died on the cross as an atonement for sin, and who rose again from the dead.”
      2. Repentance and Baptism in the “Name of Jesus”
      3. Speaking in Tongues
      4. Adherence to Holiness Standards
      5. From Tal David, Oneness Pentecostalism, https://www.namb.net/apologetics-blog/oneness-pentecostalism/, retrieved on June 28, 2019).
  1. Problem
    1. A concept of God which is contrary to the God of the Bible is an idol created by man.
      1. As such, idols cannot save.
    2. The god preached by Oneness Pentecostalism has no ability to save because it presents a false Christ—an antichrist.
    3. Therefore, those trusting in this doctrine are still in sin and awaiting condemnation.
  2. Typical Indicators
    1. Baptism “in the name of Jesus”
    2. A focus on Jesus to the neglect of the Father and the Spirit
    3. A belief that the Father and the Spirit are merely manifestations of Jesus.
  3. Biblical and Theological Corrections:
    1. Genesis 1:1-3, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.”
    2. John 1:1-3, 18, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being… No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”
      1. In the Creation account (and John’s retelling of the Creation account) three distinct Persons are present at the same time.
      2. The Father is the Author of creation, speaking His plan.
      3. The Son is the Agent of creation, the Word who comes from the mouth of the Father to do His will.
      4. The Spirit is the Administrator of creation, hovering over like a mother eagle over her nest, ensuring that everything created thing is obeying the Father’s will and the Son’s work.
    3. Psalm 2 and Psalm 110: presents a conversation between the Father and the Son.
    4. Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
      1. Jesus commanded His Apostles, the foundation of the church, to baptism with the Trinitarian formula—a formula that clearly conveys the same nature and distinct persons of the Father, Son, and Spirit.
  1. Addressing the Heresy
    1. Orthodox Christianity has clearly agreed on the Trinity since the early years of the church and taught that God exists (not merely manifests Himself) as three co-eternal, co-equal persons who are distinct, yet unified.
    2. The early church gathered in four councils (called the Christological councils) and decisively dealt with Unitarian thinking and other forms of heresies surrounding Jesus Christ and the Trinity. The councils are: Nicaea (AD 325), Constantinople (AD 381), Ephesus (AD 431), and Chalcedon (AD 451).
    3. The council of Nicaea expressed a Creed to summarize the Bible’s teaching in regard to Christ: “We believe in one God, the Father All Governing, Creator of all things visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father as only begotten, that is, from the essence of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not created, of the same essence as the Father, through whom all things came into being, both in heaven and earth; Who for us men and for our salvation came down and was incarnate, becoming human. He suffered and the third day he rose, and ascended into the heavens. And he will come to judge both the living and the dead.,.” (Found in Daniel Akin, A Theology for the Church, 526).
    4. When addressing this heresy, walk through passages of Scripture which portray God as three distinct Persons, yet One God.
    5. The OT word for “One” (echād) was often used to express a complex unity in which two or more persons were joined together as one unit. (cf. Deuteronomy 6:4, Genesis 2:24).

Jesus as God’s Son but not God

  1. Description
    1. These heresies are found in the cults of Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons).
    2. They reject the deity of Jesus Christ and therefore, the Trinity.
  2. Problem
    1. Jesus’ divinity is necessary for salvation
    2. Sin against an eternal God requires an eternal punishment.
    3. Only an eternal being (past and future) could pay the penalty for eternal punishments.
    4. Jesus’ divinity, which includes His eternality, is necessary for our salvation.
    5. This heresy is a modern-day version of the ancient heresy of Arianism
      1. This heresy was the catalyst for the Council of Nicaea (AD 325).
      2. The council decreed, “But, those who say, Once he was not, or he was not before his generation or he came to be out of nothing, or who assert that he, the Son of God, is of a differently hypostasis or ousia (substance) , or that he is a creature, or changeable, or mutable, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them” (Found in Daniel Akin, A Theology for the Church, 526).
    6. Because those who espouse this heresy have a god who is unable to save, they usually resort to some sort of legalism for salvation.
  1. Typical Indicators
    1. Speaking of Jesus as God’s Son but not God.
    2. An emphasis on works required for salvation.
  2. Biblical and Theological Corrections
    1. See John 1:1-4
    2. Philippians 2:5-10, “Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
    3. Colossians 1:15-20, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.”
    4. Hebrews 1:1-4, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,  having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.”
    5. In these passages, Jesus is clearly portrayed as being, by nature, God and therefore is eternal, equal, and of the same substance as the Father and the Spirit.
  3. Addressing the Heresy
    1. Most who espouse this doctrine try not to focus on it in conversations.
    2. Keep them on this issue and do not get side tracked on lesser topics.
      1. Their legalistic salvation flows from their misunderstanding of Christ.
    3. Focus on the passages that express the divinity of Christ and the Trinity.
    4. Direct them to consider the logic of their doctrine in relation to God’s Word.
      1. Remember, Jesus is called the Only Begotten of God, not because He was born to the Father but because His nature is the same as the Father’s.
      2. When a being has an offspring, that offspring is always of the same nature as its parents.
      3. In the same way, Jesus is the same nature as the Father.


Exercise: Identify the False Gospel:

  1. Are you sure you would go to heaven if you died today?
    1. “I’ve never really hurt anyone.”
    2. ____________________________________
  2. Have you been saved?
    1. “Yes! I was baptized ten years ago.”
    2. ____________________________________
  3. Have you asked Jesus into your heart?
    1. “I did when I was a kid at Vacation Bible School. I haven’t gone to church in a long time but I’m sure glad I prayed that prayer!”
    2. ____________________________________
  4. If you were to die today, are you sure that you wouldn’t go to Hell?
    1. “I am. Hell is the suffering we experience here.”
    2. ____________________________________
  5. Are you right with God?
    1. “I was baptized in the name of Jesus”
    2. ___________________________________
  6. Do you have a saving relationship with God?
    1. “Yes, I’ve always obeyed the ten commandments”
    2. ____________________________________
  7. Are you certain that you’re saved?
    1. “I do a lot for God. I’m trying to be like Jesus.”
    2. ___________________________________

Paul’s Farwell to the Ephesian Pastors as a Warning to Us

Acts 20:29-32, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.




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Is Church Membership Biblical? Absolutely!

Over the past several decades, western culture, and particularly American culture has become increasingly individualized. This individualization has led to an erosion in the belief of church membership and the practices that such a belief entail. Church membership is often taken flippantly by both local churches and those seeking membership. One person may end up holding membership at several churches without any commitment to those churches. Churches receive members whose confession and behavior are never checked. Where belief in membership wanes, local churches lose their Christianity and become loose gatherings of semi-religious, semi-spiritual individuals with little commitment to one another or to any particular belief or practice. However, before serious church membership can be prescribed as an antidote, one must investigate God’s Word to see if church membership originated in the mind of God or whether it is merely an invention of men. I contend that church membership is a Biblical concept. Below are eight Biblical foundations for church membership. I am indebted to Dr. Tim Juhnke and my fellow doctoral classmates at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for our discussion on church membership during our Pastoral Ministry seminar.

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Biblical Foundation for Church Membership #1: The New Testament Church Records

In Acts 2:40-47, Luke records the number of those who received the message of salvation, were baptized, and added to their fellowship. Then he shares that those who were saved and baptized were deeply committed to God’s people and purposes. In this New Testament passage and a few others which follow in Acts, we find a recorded number and a specific commitment of those who joined in following Christ at a local level. When someone surrenders to Jesus in faith, the church should baptize him into the fellowship of God’s people. We see in this passage that baptism and church membership share a very close connection in which baptism serves as the initiatory rite in joining God’s people in a formal commitment. In salvation, one comes into a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ. In baptism, one comes into a right relationship with the church.

Biblical Foundation for Church Membership #2: The Biblical Usage of the Term “Join”

In Acts, Luke regularly uses the term kollaomai (“to join” or “to associate with”) to describe commitment that new believers made to the local church upon their salvation. In Acts 5:13, the Jerusalem church expected her members to live morally upright lives in such a way that many were afraid “to associate with” them. In Acts 9:26, after Paul was saved, he tried “to associate” with the disciples. In Acts 17:32-34, when some heard the good news about Jesus, they “joined” Paul and believed. We get a clearer picture of this term when we see how Jesus used it in Matthew 19:5. Jesus was teaching about the nature of the marriage covenant and quotes from Genesis saying, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and ‘be joined’ (kollaomai) to his wife.” Jesus’ use of the term “join” here shows that the word sometimes carries the idea of a formal and public covenant.

Biblical Foundation for Church Membership #3: The Call to Regular and Frequent Church Attendance

In Hebrews 10:24-25, the writer of Hebrews calls Christians to help each other prepare for the return of Christ by assembling together regularly. The Holman Christian Standard Bible translates it this way, “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” One of the most prominent aspects of a local church covenant is the commitment to regular attendance at church gatherings.

Biblical Foundation for Church Membership #4: The New Testament Emphasis on the Local Church

Theologian and Bible Scholar John Hammett, who specializes in the doctrine of the church, has counted 109 occurrences of the term “church” (ekklesia) in the New Testament. According to Hammett, only 13 of these uses clearly refer to the universal church—that is all believers of every era and location. The vast majority of the occurrences of the term “church” in the New Testament refer to local bodies of believers. The New Testament’s emphasis is on Christians committing to local bodies of believers who are in regular fellowship (see John Hammett’s Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology, 28-29).

Biblical Foundation for Church Membership #5: The Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Several New Testament passages speak of special gifts which the Holy Spirit gives to each believer. Among these passages is First Corinthians 14. In this passage, Paul explains that spiritual gifts are given so that the Christian may “seek to abound for the edification of the church” (1 Cor 14:12). This means that God has given each Christian spiritual gifts so he can build up, encourage, and help the local church accomplish her purpose. A Christian cannot use his spiritual gifts as God intended unless he is committed to a local church.

Biblical Foundation for Church Membership #6: The Command to Practice Church Discipline

Jesus and Paul both commanded local churches to warn and eventually remove members who were acting in rebellious, habitual, or divisive unrepentant sins (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5; Titus 3:10). How can a person be removed from something that does not actually exist? The command for church discipline necessitates a membership from which to remove the member who is living in sin. Otherwise, there can be no clear acts of obedience to the commands for church discipline.

Biblical Foundation for Church Membership #7: Pastors’ Accountability to the Chief Shepherd

The writer of Hebrews states, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith…Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account” (Hebrews 13:7, 17). The description of the role here is that of pastors. They lead, preach God’s Word, set an example, and shepherd the local church. The reason the writer of Hebrews directs the local church to submit to her pastors is because those pastors “will give an account.” When Christ returns, every pastor will answer for how he shepherded those people that the Chief Shepherd entrusted to his care. Without a church membership, how can the pastor know for whom he will be held accountable?

Biblical Foundation for Church Membership #8: The Priesthood of All Believers

In Exodus 19:6, God gives a glimpse of His desire and goal. He wanted to make a people for himself that was a holy nation—a nation in which every citizen is a priest. However, the people of Israel were afraid to be priests before God—so they asked Moses to mediate between them and God (Exodus 20:18-21). Moses, his brother Aaron, and their ancestors the Levites, served as a tribe of priests. Yet, God sought to make a nation of priests. Under the new covenant, each person who is saved by Christ becomes part of the royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:4-10). In the New Testament, we see local church bodies serving as the priesthood together. They practiced church discipline (Mt 18:15-20, 1 Cor 5:2), restored repentant members who were disciplined (2 Cor 2:6-7), baptized new believers into membership (Acts 2:41), ordained deacons (Acts 6:3), sent missionaries (Acts 13:2-3), and corrected false teaching (Acts 15:22).

The Biblical evidence directs us to realize that when we are saved, we are saved to become part of God’s people, God’s family. And this new communal relationship isn’t a mere mystical union. It is a tangible and formal union with a body of believers who meet regularly and consistently for the purposes of God.

So how can we change our beliefs and practices since church membership is clearly Biblical? Maybe you’ve never been saved from your sins. What a wonderful life-giving blessing it would be if you accepted Christ today and become part of His family! Maybe you attend a church but you have never formally committed to that church in membership. Will you seek membership? Maybe you’re a member somewhere but you’ve neglected your responsibility to be a part of church business meetings where the church exercises her role as the royal priesthood. Will you make this incredible calling a priority? Maybe there’s a ministry in your church where God would have you serve and use your spiritual gifts. Will you sign up? Maybe you’re afraid to give a tithe of your income faithfully to God through the local church. Will you step out in faith and watch God provide for you as you are faithful to Him? Maybe you’re physically unable to serve in many ways. Will you take on the powerful ministry of prayer and pray through your church’s directory and calendar? Maybe you realize your church hasn’t kept a careful watch on her membership. Insist that church leaders check the salvation of potential members, encourage your church to practice discipline and restoration where necessary, exhort your church to clean up its membership role, removing those who are attending elsewhere or who are attending nowhere. Church membership is a covenantal commitment. May we honor God by treating it as one instituted by Him.