Calvary Road Baptist Church

“DECISIONS CHURCH MEMBERS MUST BE PREPARED TO MAKE” 

I was watching the first few minutes of a YouTube video a couple of days ago when the speaker, the pastor of a Baptist Church on the East coast, made what I thought was an arresting observation to the other pastors he was speaking to. He was speaking on one topic, but the comment he made struck me to consider an entirely different matter in Church life. He was speaking on the subject of the way Churches choose to govern themselves, but the comment he made that I found to be so important was the responsibility Church pastors have to prepare Church members to make important decisions.

Of course, the mind runs to crucial decisions that each of us makes regarding education and career choices, lifestyle choices, marriage and family matters that are decided upon, and many other important decisions that require wisdom, spirituality, fervent prayer, the seeking of counsel, and such things as that. What job is to be sought? What job offer is to be accepted? What approach to training and education is pursued? Whether a young man should advance a relationship with a young woman? Whether a guy should marry a young woman who is pursuing him or another young woman whose principles exclude her pursuing any man? Where to purchase a home to raise your children? Those are the kinds of decisions that are finally made by individuals or married couples. Such decisions are, obviously, very important and require serious attention to not only the decision-making process but also the consequences of decisions once they are made. I find it surprising how infrequently professing Christians approach such important decisions in a serious manner.

Of course, the reason I am so interested in the decision making process is that the ministry I am charged with engaging in as a pastor is that of equipping Church members to serve God, Ephesians 4.11-12: 

11  And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

12  For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. 

Obviously, what job you work, what hours you work, where your house is located, who you choose to marry, and other such decisions, bear directly on your ability to serve God effectively. If you pursue a career that demands Sunday work, if you choose to live in a house that is a long way from work and Church, and if you marry someone who is not a believer or is not in doctrinal agreement with you, then your effectiveness as a Christian will be seriously compromised. On the other hand, there are a whole other set of decisions Church members are called upon to make that are profoundly important to other people and not just to you. Where you choose to live affects you and your family as well as your Church, but the impact of your choice of residence is of a different type than I want to speak to you about tonight.

Do you have to know much Bible to know that working on Sundays will interfere with your growth and development as a Christian, and will reflect poorly on your Savior and the cause of Christ? No. That’s pretty basic. As well, how much of God’s Word do you need under your belt to realize that living 15 minutes from the Church house will affect you differently than living 45 minutes from the Church house? Not much, as a general rule. Those are mostly common sense considerations. However, there are entirely different categories of decisions that you will be called upon to make as a Church member that I would like to bring to your attention. These are decisions that are revealed in the Bible to be decisions Church members have to make and usually have to make in concert with other Church members, arriving at a consensus so to speak.

Let me review these categories of decisions with you before concluding with some comments about the best way for you to be prepared to arrive at the decisions that are recorded in the New Testament: 

First, CHURCH MEMBERS MUST BE PREPARED TO MAKE DECISIONS ABOUT DISCIPLINE 

There are some passages in the New Testament dealing with discipline and how issues of sin are to be addressed within the Church congregation by its members, but I bring only two to your attention at this time: 

Matthew 18.15-20:  

15  Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.

16  But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.

17  And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

18  Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

19  Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.

20  For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. 

First Corinthians 5.1-6:   

1  It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife.

2  And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.

3  For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed,

4  In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,

5  To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

6  Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? 

Three observations about these two passages:

First, you will notice that neither the Lord Jesus Christ nor the Apostle Paul addresses their remarks to the leaders of the congregations, per se, though the context of their remarks demonstrates that Christians who are not members of the congregations dealing with the sins play no part in the dealings. Thus, matters of Church discipline are issues that Church members must make important decisions about.

Second, implicit in Christ’s comments and absent in the Corinthian Church (if Paul’s comments are considered) is the assumption of individual responsibility when a Church member sins serious enough to warrant taking the matter before the entire congregation. The Savior wants Church members to deal with sin in our midst, and the Corinthian Church had neglected to deal with sin in their midst.

Third, the decision-making process amounts to deciding a Church member’s guilt or innocence after another Church member and witnesses have accused him or her of wrongdoing. Certainly, questions need to be asked. Certainly, some amount of investigation is needed unless wrongdoing is admitted by the accused. But Church members are expected to be informed enough to function as an informed jury.

Are you prepared to make such decisions? You need to become prepared to make such decisions. After all, according to First Corinthians 6.3, “we shall judge angels.” Where do you think your skills at evaluating such matters will be developed so that your skills will result in justice when someone in our Church is accused? 

Next, CHURCH MEMBERS MUST BE PREPARED TO MAKE DECISIONS ABOUT DOCTRINE 

Acts 15.1-22:

1  And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.

2  When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.

3  And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.

4  And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them.

5  But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.

6  And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.

7  And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.

8  And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;

9  And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.

10  Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

11  But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.

12  Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.

13  And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me:

14  Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.

15  And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written,

16  After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up:

17  That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.

18  Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.

19  Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:

20  But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.

21  For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.

22  Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren 

The dispute this congregation dealt with was over doctrine, namely, the doctrine of justification by faith. The word justification is not used in this record of the congregational meeting, but the issue of circumcision as necessary for salvation impinged directly on whether or not salvation was by grace through faith alone or whether works were necessary for salvation. That is among the most important of all doctrines found in the Bible.

Church members in Jerusalem had been teaching bad doctrine. Paul and Silas opposed them on the mission field and sought to take the entire matter to the Church in Jerusalem to resolve the issue once and for all.

As you read the passage, you will see a progression of speakers, beginning with a summary statement about Paul and Silas (who were not members of the Jerusalem Church) in verse 4. It seems the first to speak in the gathering of the entire congregation were the Church members who had come out of the sect of the Pharisees and held on to the notion that circumcision was required. Following that the opportunity for everyone in the Church to speak his mind passed and the matter was dealt with by the Church leadership in a vigorous exchange, verse 6 (however, it was all done out in the open where all the Church members could see and hear what was taking place). Then Peter spoke, verses 7-11. The multitudes had the opportunity to speak, but remained silent, verse 12. Then Paul and Barnabas spoke once more. Then James, the senior pastor, concluded, verses 13-21, with his statement beginning with the words, “Men and brethren, hearken unto me.”

Important to note but often overlooked is that at every step of the way the Church’s membership saw and heard everything. But notice that “the multitude kept silence,” verse 12, and “held their peace,” verse 13. Finally, look down to verse 22, which begins, “Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church.”

Keep three things in mind throughout this passage: First, it cannot be denied that everyone had an opportunity to contribute to the conversation related to this doctrinal matter. No Church member was excluded, and no Christian who had anything to contribute was excluded. Second, it cannot be denied that the leaders led. Paul and Silas spoke. Peter spoke. Then James was the last to speak as the senior pastor who drew the entire matter to its proper conclusion. Finally, notice that at every step of the way the entire congregation had to, and did, concur with the developments they witnessed.

What this passage shows is that while the Church members were neither required to be nor expected to be theologians, the development of the issue and the explanation of the factors that supported Paul, Silas, Peter, and James’ conclusions so vital to the doctrinal matter before the congregation was entirely agreed to and supported by the consensus of the entire congregation. And if you have any question about the response of those ethnic Jewish Christians had they thought they were being railroaded or hoodwinked concerning vital doctrine, think again.

Someday you may be called on to hear out a discussion centered on a vital Bible doctrine. Such a discussion should not take place behind closed doors but should be open to every Church member. But should that day come where do you think your understanding of important Bible doctrines will have been developed so that you will know to concur when the truth is spoken and to challenge when an error is spoken? 

Finally, CHURCH MEMBERS MUST BE PREPARED TO MAKE DECISIONS ABOUT DISCERNMENT 

Galatians 1.1-9:    

1  Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)

2  And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia:

3  Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ,

4  Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father:

5  To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

6  I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:

7  Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.

8  But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

9  As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. 

If the Lord’s comments in Matthew 18.15-22 and Paul’s comments in First Corinthians 5.1-6 are related to decisions about discipline concerning matters within a congregation, and Acts 17.1-22 show a congregation’s responsibility to make decisions about doctrine sent forth from a congregation, then Galatians 1.1-9 has to do with decisions to be made about discernment related to what is allowed to come into a congregation.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians is a circular letter intended to be passed around from congregation to congregation in a region known in Paul’s day as Galatia. The problem was with what might be called by some in our day the naiveté of the Church members of the Galatians congregations, but the proper word is discernment.

It seems some speakers arrived on the scene who were quite accomplished speakers, with charming personalities and excellent presentations. There was only one problem: what they preached was a different Gospel message than Paul had delivered to them when he first introduced them to Christ and established their congregations.

So, what is Paul here calling on Church members to do? He is challenging them to exercise discernment which will result in them deciding not to pay attention to anything Oprah Winfrey says because she espouses another Gospel. And the same thing goes for Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland, Creflow Dollar, Paula White, Joyce Meyer, or Benny Hinn.

Notice that the Apostle Paul does not call on individuals to make such choices. He calls on congregations to make such choices: “We will not listen to those who preach another Gospel, who deny that Jesus is the unique Savior of sinful men’s souls, or that there is such a thing as salvation without repentance.”

Do you doubt this? Then turn to Titus 1.10-13, where Paul provides instruction to Titus for dealing with Church members about such things: 

10 For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision:

11 Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.

12 One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.

13 This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith. 

Notice in verse 13 that it is the Church members who are to be rebuked for listening to false teachers. Thus, Church members are to exercise discernment in deciding who not to pay attention to and Titus was to function in his capacity of dealing with individuals who exercised poor judgment, so they will go on to be sound in the faith. Of course, those who are unsaved can and do just about anything they want. 

So it is established that Church members need to be prepared to make important decisions about discipline within the ranks of the Church membership, about doctrine that is sent forth from the membership, and decisions about discernment concerning that which is received into the Church’s membership.

Where do you think the wisdom to make right decisions in this way are developed, are honed, are sharpened, so that when the time comes grievous mistakes will not be made regarding a member’s discipline, regarding a doctrine that is sent out, and regarding discernment with respect to what is listened to and allowed in by members?

I am a preacher, and I can tell you that such skills are not best developed by preaching. I am a teacher, and I can tell you that such skills are not best developed by teaching. Those two activities are almost 100% one direction activities. What is needed for the cultivation of skills in matters of discipline, doctrine and discernment is communication that is roughly 50% - 50%, with real comment and consideration going on in both directions. Where does that best take place, my friend?

It best takes place in a discipleship situation. Therefore, if you want to be prepared for the discipline situation that will someday come, and for the doctrine matter that will someday come, and for the discernment matter that happens all too frequently, you will bow to the importance of being discipled. And it is not just these three things that are so dependent on you being discipled. There are so many others. But these three areas of consideration are related to you being a good Church member; even when you are as these examples, we looked at showed young Christians being challenged to act as congregations.

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org