The following letter was written by Martin Van Buren, governor of New York in 1829, to the president of the United States:
To President Jackson: The canal system of this country is being threatened by the spread of a new form of transportation known as "railroads." The federal government must preserve the canals for the following reasons:
One: If canal boats are supplanted by "railroads," serious unemployment will result. Captains, cooks, drivers, hostlers, repairmen and lock tenders will be left without means of livelihood, not to mention the numerous farmers now employed in growing hay for the horses.
Two: Boat builders would suffer and towline, whip and harness makers would be left destitute.
Three: Canal boats are absolutely essential to the defense of the United States. In the event of the expected trouble with England, the Erie Canal would be the only means by which we could ever move the supplies so vital to waging modern war.
As you may well know, Mr. President, "railroad" carriages are pulled at the enormous speed of fifteen miles per hour by "engines" which, in addition to endangering life and limb of passengers, roar and snort their way through the countryside, setting fire to crops, scaring the livestock and frightening women and children. The Almighty certainly never intended that people should travel at such breakneck speed. Martin Van Buren, governor of New York (Jan. 31, 1829) - Leith Anderson, Dying for Change, Bethany House Pub., 1990
Do you think the governor had a little problem with change or maybe even a fear of change? He had a fear of change that clouded his vision for what this country could become. Thankfully, the courage of the president was greater than the fear of the governor. We don't like change. Change is uncomfortable, because change means the unfamiliar. We like what is familiar, because what is familiar is comfortable.
This morning we are instituting some changes here are BBC. Hopefully, we'll be able to communicate these changes in a way that you'll be able to understand what we are doing and why.
What is the purpose of the Church? By "church" I'm talking about the local assembly. The church universal is the great all encompassing group of Christians throughout the world who have placed their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. The church universal always finds its expression in the church local, which is a body of believers called out of the world and into a spiritual fellowship based on the life of Jesus Christ within. So what is the main purpose of the local church? To answer that question look with me at:
1 Timothy 3:14-15 (NASB) I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; 15 but in case I am delayed, I write so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.
Let me give you a little background. First and Second Timothy and Titus are commonly called the Pastoral Epistles, because they consist chiefly of instructions and admonitions to two pastors, Timothy and Titus. Paul is writing this letter to his son in the faith, Timothy, who was pastoring the church at Ephesus:
1 Timothy 1:3 (NASB) As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus, in order that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines,
This epistle deals with: error in the church and how to deal with it; proper pattern for church leadership - he talks about elders and deacons; proper attitudes and roles for men and women in the church; and how to discipline in the church. The key verse is:
1 Timothy 3:15 (NASB) but in case I am delayed, I write so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.
Paul had hoped to come to Ephesus soon, but if he was delayed, he wanted Timothy to know how to conduct himself in the house of God. The word "conduct" is from the Greek word anastrepho, which describes his whole life and character; but it specially describes him in his relationships with other people. He is talking about proper conduct within the assembly of God's people.
"....in the household of God" - the Greek word for "household" is oikos. This speaks not of a building but of a family. Then he says, ".....which is the church of the living God" - There is no definite article "the" and should be translated: "which is the Living God's Church." The word "church" is from the Greek ekklesia, which means: "to call out of". The church is a body of called out people.
Now notice what Paul calls the church: "the pillar and support of the truth." In Ephesus, to those the letters were written, the word "pillar" would have a special significance. The greatest glory of Ephesus was the temple of Diana or Artemis. When Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Diana, got the people stirred up, notice what they cried out:
Acts 19:28 (NASB) And when they heard this and were filled with rage, they began crying out, saying, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!"
The temple of Diana was one of the seven wonders of the world. One of its features was its pillars. It had 127 pillars, every one of them the gift of a king. They were all made of marble, and some were studded with jewels and overlaid with gold.
It may be that the idea of the word "pillar" here is not so much support - that's the idea of "ground" - but of "display." The idea is that the church's mission is to hold up the truth of God for all men to see. The church is to support and display the truth of God. We are not the source of truth, the Bible is, but we are to support and display it. The Bible is God's Word, and the church is to support and display that truth. Timothy was to do this through preaching and teaching the Word of God:
1 Timothy 4:11-13 (NASB) Prescribe and teach these things. 12 Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. 13 Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.
2 Timothy 4:1-2 (NASB) I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
I don't believe that the church's mission has changed, we are to be the pillar and support of the truth. This is done through faithfully expounding the truth of God's Word. So the local church, Berean Bible Church, exists to be a pillar and ground of the truth. This is the mission of every local church, but I believe that most local churches have forsaken this role. And that is why I believe that what we are doing at BBC is critically needed.
In order for the local church to exist and function as the pillar and support of the truth, it needs leaders, and it needs organization. We believe that the biblical mandate for local church leaders is a plurality of elders.
In the New Testament there is never one book, never one word addressed to one man as the pastor of the church. Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church, not a man. The church is to be led by Elders who are under shepherds that care for the flock.
There are three terms used in the New Testament to describe church leaders, and none of them are "reverend," they are, "bishop, elder, and pastor." The most widely used New Testament designation for local church leaders is elders.
Elder - is the Greek word presbuteros. It is used 70 times in the New Testament. It refers to mature in age. Presbuteros is used 20 times in Acts and the epistles in reference to leaders in the church.
Bishop - is from the Greek word episkopos. It means guardian or overseer. It is used 5 times in the New Testament, once of Christ (1 Peter 2:25), and four other times to refer to church leaders. It is plural, bishops.
Pastor - this is from the Greek word poimen. It is only found once in the New Testament in Eph. 4:11. The normal meaning of the word is shepherd, which means to protect, feed, care for, and lead.
Pastors are not distinct from bishops or elders. The terms are simply different ways of identifying the same people. Textual evidence indicates that all three terms refer to the same office.
1 Peter 5:1-3 (NASB) Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.
The word "elder" in verse 1 is presbuteros. The word "shepherd" in verse 2 is poimaino. And the word "overseers" in verse 2 is episkopeo. Peter instructs the elders to be good shepherds as they oversee the flock.
Acts 20:17 (NASB) And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church.
Please notice that the word "elders" is plural and "church" is singular. Each church had a plurality of elders. Notice what Paul told these elders:
Acts 20:28 (NASB) "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 which He purchased with His own blood.
Here we see the same three Greek words used to describe those who lead the church. Elder emphasizes who the man is, bishop and pastor speak of what he does.
Every place in the New Testament where the term presbuteros is used, it is plural except where John and Peter use it to speak of themselves. The norm in the New Testament church was a plurality of elders. There is no reference in all the New Testament to a one-pastor congregation. Today's tradition of a single pastor leading a church is not the biblical norm, but is a violation of the scriptural pattern.
So BBC is an elder led church. When we began this church on April 27, 1997 we had two elders, myself and Rich. When Rich moved away in 2002, that left just me. It's hard to have a plurality of elders when you just have one elder. For several years we struggled as a church, and I personally struggled as the sole leader of BBC. Then about a year and a half ago, four men met in my living room to discuss the future of BBC. We formed a leadership team and began to meet every week for accountability, prayer, and discussion of the direction of BBC.
Over the past year and a half we have accomplished much. Our accountability sessions have helped all of us to grow in our walk with the Lord. Our prayer time has been a constant cry to God declaring our dependence upon Him. And our time of discussing what needed to change and then implementing the changes has been very beneficial to this body.
In our attempt to get organized and move this church forward, we have laid out a church constitution for BBC, revised its mission statement, and put together a membership covenant.
Our Mission: To influence people to grow in a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, through expository teaching, discipleship, fellowship, and treating others as we would like to be treated.
We believe that this is why we exist as a church, and this is also why we exist as individual Christians. We believe that if you understand this to be your mission, that you will live in such a way as to carry it out.
Deep in the heart of every believer there is an awareness that we are on this planet for purposes greater than having a career, paying the bills, loving our families, and fulfilling our role as upstanding citizens. The primary reason we remain on this planet is to help others in their spiritual walk.
Believers, we are to "influence" others - this is our mission. We are to influence the world in which we live. This is clearly what Christ meant in:
Matthew 5:13-16 (NASB) "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. 14 "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 "Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
As salt and light, we influence our world. Notice that the ultimate purpose is found in verse 16. "...that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." God is glorified in us when we thank Him for all we have, trust Him for all we need, and obey His revealed will. We glorify God when we find our delight in Him. We are to be influencing others to grow in a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
How do we influence people to grow in a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ?
Through expository teaching - It is our practice to teach through the Bible verse-by-verse emphasizing and interpreting the doctrine found in them.
A recent best-selling Christian book warns readers to be on guard against preachers whose emphasis is on interpreting Scripture rather than applying it. Is that wise counsel? No, it is not. There is no danger of irrelevant doctrine; the real threat is an undoctrinal attempt at relevance. The nucleus of all that is truly practical is found in the teaching of Scripture.
Discipleship - this is working with other in small groups or one on one to help them understand and put in practice the teaching of the Bible.
Fellowship - this is believers getting together to share their joys and failures. To encourage, support, and pray for each other.
Treating others as we would like to be treated - The is the "Golden Rule."
Matthew 7:12 (NASB) "Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Another way to state this "Golden Rule" would be, "Love your neighbor as yourself"(Matt. 19:19). We are to be manifesting God's character in our dealings with one another, doing what is good for the other person. That leaves no room for things like gossip, pettiness, unkindness, jealousy, and envy. All of these things are ruled out by the simple statement, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." We are to manifest God's character in our relationships with one another.
These boil down to the fact that we influence people: by how we live, and what we say. What is to come first? Example. People aren't interested in committing their lives to Christ unless they observe attractive and consistent patterns of living in the Christians they know. Joe Aldrich, author of the book, Life-Style Evangelism, puts it like this: "Christians are to be good news before they share the good news."
As a very young Christian, I was greatly influenced by a man named, Bill Gable. He befriended me shortly after we started to attend the church he went to. I saw in him a man who was 100% committed to following the Lord Jesus Christ. When my father died, we flew to Pennsylvania for the funeral. I had asked several Christians what happens when a person dies, and got no real answer. As soon as we got back to Virginia, I went to Bill and asked him, "What happens when a Christian dies?" He opened his Bible and began to show me what the Scripture had to say. I was greatly comforted by the truth he showed me. That happened over twenty eight years ago and I still remember that day very well. I decided that day that I was going to be like Bill, I wanted to know the Word of God in such a way that I could help those who needed answers. I feel that my devotion to study was caught from this man's influence. My life was changed by his loving influence.
We influence people by how we live and what we say. Having a Godly, Christlike example is not enough. We have to articulate the Gospel to them. We have to tell them why we live like we do. We must tell them the damage that sin brings and the joy of living in an obedient relationship with Jesus Christ.
We have not only created a church constitution and a new mission statement, we have also put together a membership covenant.
Why membership? We believe we can accomplish much more when we have a group of people who have made a commitment to each other. The reason that Cathy and I are still together after 30 years is because we made a covenant with each other. We have had difficult times in those 30 years, but we stayed together and worked through them, because we had promised to do so.
BBC has a mission statement, doctrinal statement, a vision, and goals which we can only fulfill as we work together. We want to know who it is that shares this vision and these goals and will work with us to help accomplish them. Therefore we have developed a membership covenant.
There is a famous story from Sparta. A Spartan king boasted to a visiting king about the walls of Sparta. The visiting king looked around and could see no walls. He said to the Spartan king, "Where are these walls about which you boast so much?" His host pointed at his bodyguard of magnificent troops. "These," he said, "are the walls of Sparta, every man is a brick." The point is clear. So long as a brick lies by itself it is useless; it becomes of use only when it is incorporated into a building. So it is with the individual Christian. To realize our full potential, we must not remain alone but must be built into the fabric of the local church.
The elders have grown spiritually and have become better husbands and fathers because of our accountability to the group. This only happened because we were committed to the group. The group of elders is a microcosm of what the church should be. But this will only happen as we commit ourselves to each other.
The kingdom of God is not designed for believers to exist in isolation from each other: we are interdependent. We need each other if we are truly going to be what God has called us to be.
Christianity is to be lived out in community, and God has created us to be dependant both on Him and on one another. God said in Genesis 2:18, "It is not good for a man to be alone." That principle does not only apply to the marriage relationship; none of us has the spiritual wherewithal to go it alone in our Christian lives. Proverbs 27:17 says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." As we share our lives with each other, we sharpen and encourage one another.
We need each other, because that is how the Lord created us. We are to teach, to serve, and to bear the burdens of one another.
Now I would like to go over with you articles 5 & 6 of our constitution:
ARTICLE V --MEMBERSHIP
Membership in the Berean Bible Church shall be the means whereby an individual confesses his faith in Jesus Christ, commits himself to the covenantal commitments, agrees to articles 15 of the Statement of Faith, and entrusts himself to its spiritual care and counsel of the church.
ARTICLE VI--COVENANTAL COMMITMENT
The revelation of our God, as demonstrated by His love for us at Calvary, requires a response on our part. A part of this response in the Scriptures was often exemplified in the making of a covenant between one another. For this reason we have included a covenantal commitment for this local body of believers who serve as our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Through this commitment we acknowledge our desire to grow in obedience to God. We are concerned for both the physical and spiritual wellbeing of each other and are to encourage one another to serve Christ.
Section B--The Covenantal Commitment
Where we are placed in the church for service is a matter of God's sovereign leading in the believer's life and is to be confirmed in the local church setting. The Scripture states that God places members in the body as it pleases Him (1 Corinthians 12:18). God places us in local fellowship with His people so that we can live in covenant together, grow together, and support one another in the body of Christ. Privilege, responsibility, and accountability should be practiced and lived out in the local church. Because of this understanding, we practice the following covenantal commitment:
Members covenant with the Church to:
The Church covenants with its members to:
Being mindful of our own weaknesses and insufficiency, and knowing that of ourselves we can do nothing, we humbly implore and rely on God's help and guidance in our solemn endeavor to fulfill this covenant.
Before I close this morning, let me add that Berean has a family beyond this local gathering. Through our ministry of tapes, CD's, our web site and speaking at conferences, there are people literally throughout the world who are part of Berean's family. We want you to know that membership in BBC is open to you also. We know that many of you do not have a church home, and we want to do all that we can to minister to and support you.
Our Mission is: To influence people to grow in a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, through expository teaching, discipleship, fellowship, and treating others as we would like to be treated.
We hope that you will adopt this as your mission, we need to memorize it and then evaluate all we do by it. As we go through life, we are to be influencing those we come in contact with by how we live and what we say. There is nothing in life as exciting as influencing others to grow in a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.