Archive for August, 2008

Bible Study Location for September

For the month of September, we will be meeting at the home of Lance and Melissa Johnston.  They live at 4915 College Ave. in Conway.  Directions to the Johnston’s home from the intersection of Prince and Salem are below.

Travel west (away from downtown) on Prince.
Turn right on College.
4915 will be about .5 miles on the left (look for the Christ Church Conway sign).

 

 

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The Law of the Olympics

This summer’s Olympics have provided several great illustrations of how law works. 

First, in several track events there were false starts.  Although, in many cases, only one athlete was guilty of a false start, the violation was charged to the entire field.  Essentially, one broke the rules and all were held accountable for it.

Second, a gymnast received a score of zero for her completed vault because she began before the light was green.  Third, two sprinters, one with silver and one with bronze were disqualified after stepping on a lane line. In the last two cases, the infractions did not give any advantage to the athletes, yet they were still disqualified.  All of these situations were undoubtedly hard to deal with not only for the athletes but also for their coaches, teammates, and fans. However, the rules stand and nothing can be done about it.

God’s law works in much the same way as Olympic rules. 

First, Adam sinned by eating the fruit of The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Paul makes clear in Romans 5 that all men suffer death and are condemned because of the one man’s sin.  Like the sprinters, we are held accountable for the one man’s sin.

Second, Matthew writes, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”  Likewise, James writes, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.”  The smallest infraction leaves us guilty.  It is simply not enough to be a pretty good person.

This makes the gospel of Jesus Christ that much sweeter.  When we understand how exacting and harsh God’s law is, we understand the depth of our own guilt and depth of our need for a Savior.  We all have utterly broken God’s law and continue doing the same.  God did not send His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for pretty good people; He sent His Son to die for sinners.  Matthew writes, “And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples,  ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’  But when he heard it, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Matthew 9.11-13, ESV).  And Paul writes, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die- but God shows his love for us in that  while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by  his life.  More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation”  (Romans 5.6-11).  Praise God, for He has dealt with sinners according to His covenant faithfulness, indeed according to His grace.

 

 

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“How should we then live?”

The vision of Christ Church Conway includes being involved in people’s lives and in the life of various communities.  Therefore it seems appropriate to think through how we should respond to people, communities, and culture.

The number of Bible verses that deal with how we as Christians conduct ourselves, especially toward one another, is astounding.  I must be clear, doing the things commanded below does not make one a Christian.  Rather, being a Christian, that is one who has been made new in Christ, has the necessary outcome of a life growing more and more in holiness.  Such a life is a life of faith lived in reliance on the Spirit; we cannot produce holiness in ourselves.

Here are a several Bible verses that may challenge our thinking regarding how we interact with other people in our own communities and other communities.

Proverbs 3.7
Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.

Proverbs 26.4-5
Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.

Ecclesiastes 10.12-13
The words of a wise man’s mouth win him favor, but the lips of a fool consume him.  The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness, and the end of his talk is evil madness.

Matt 5.13-16
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.  You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and  give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matt 10.16   
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Matt 12.33-37   
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 speak good, when you are evil?  For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.  I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

Romans 12.14-19
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.   Never be wise in your own sight.  Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written,  “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

2 Corinthians 13.11   
Finally, brothers, rejoice.  Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

Ephesians 4.1-24
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit-just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”  (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?  He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)  And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.  Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.  They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.  They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.  But that is not the way you learned Christ!- assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through  deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Ephesians 4.29-32
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Ephesians 5.3-11   
But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.  Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.  For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.  Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

Philippians 2.1-11   
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any  participation in the Spirit, any  affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being  of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,  in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and  every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is  Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Colossians 2.16-19
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.  These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.  Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by  his sensuous mind, and  not  holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

Colossians 3.5-11
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:  sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  On account of these the wrath of God is coming.  In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.  But now you must put them all away:  anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.  Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Colossians 4.5-6   
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.  Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

1 Timothy 1.5-7
The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and  a good conscience and  a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into  vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.

2 Timothy 2.22-26   
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.  Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.  And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.  God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

1 Peter 3.8-11
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.  Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.  For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.

1 Peter 3.15-17
…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy,  always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and  respect, having a good conscience, so that,  when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.  For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

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We are a…

 

Once again the vision of Christ Church Conway is to work for the expansion of the Kingdom of God by starting a new church in Conway, AR which will a) be a worshipping-community, a ministering-community, and a transforming-community, and b) work to plant and water the seeds of the gospel in the lives of individuals in Conway and all the places where we serve.  Part “a” deals with what we are, and part “b” with what we will do because of what we are.  This post is going to be a rough overview of part “a.”  Later I will fill in more details on each of the three communities.

The three categories given – Worshipping-community, Ministering-community, and Transforming-community – summarize what it is to be the church as it is impossible to be any of these things rightly, apart from Christ.  Because the church is made up of those who profess faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, together with their children, then we can understand the church to be people united to each other in union with Christ.  If this is the reality of the church, then there are certain characteristics and activities that one can expect from the church.  These characteristics and activities are summed up by the three categories given above.

Within these three categories there is a certain amount of overlap.  For instance, the ministry of the Word in preaching that is a necessary part of being a Worshipping-community also plays a role in being a Transforming-community.  These three categories simply help us to talk about the various ways the church functions.  The Book of Church Order (BCO) of The Presbyterian Church in America defines a particular church as consisting “of professing Christians, with their children, associated together for divine worship and godly living, agreeable to the Scriptures, and submitting to the lawful government of Christ’s kingdom.”  Being a worshipping, ministering, and transforming community is encapsulated in this definition. 

As the Christians we are called by God to be worshippers of God, therefore, the church should be a Worshipping-community.  The idea of being a Worshipping-community encapsulates not only formal corporate gatherings but also informal gatherings, family worship, and personal worship.  The Westminster Confession of Faith VII.6 states, “Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant  is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper…”  BCO 4.4 states, “The ordinances established by Christ, the Head, in His Church are prayer; singing praises; reading, expounding and preaching the Word of God; administering the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; public solemn fasting and thanksgiving; catechizing; making offerings for the relief of the poor and for other pious uses; and exercising discipline; the taking of solemn vows, and the ordination to sacred office.”  All of this is part of being a worshipping community.  Scripture defines how we come to God corporately and encourages us also to come to God as families and individuals in worship.  Indeed all of life is worship. 

As a Ministering-community the church will be committed to worship, prayer, evangelism and discipleship, mercy ministries, giving, church planting, and ministry training (both vocational and lay).  While these areas will be developed in different ways depending on the giftedness of those involved each of these areas is vital to being a Ministering-community.  Being a ministering community involves ministering in and to not only the congregation but also the community in which the congregation exists.  The world is full of needs and we have been called to serve.

A Transforming-community is one that is constantly being changed and working for change.  However, it is not change for the sake of change.  The transformation that is in view is sanctification in the lives of individuals which will necessarily have an impact on how they view, process, and interact with the world around them.  Since change is often disliked, especially in the church, individuals and churches must be intentional about cultivating change through the means God has given to his church.  As individuals are transformed, communities are transformed.

We will look into these aspects of what the church is and how the church functions in more detail, and we will consider the biblical case for these ideas.  This is a brief overview of what Christ Church Conway is looking to be.

 

 

 

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Church?

 

The second issue in the vision statement that needs some clarification is “church.” Is church simply a place we go?  Is church what happens at a certain time during the week?  Is church a group of a certain type of people?  Is church a place where there are many good business and social opportunities?  Is church a political organization?  What exactly is church?

I remember the child’s rhyme about the church -

Here is the church.
Here is the steeple.
Open the door.
See all the people.

This was my understanding of the church for a long time.  It was a building where people met to listen to the preacher and what not.  However, when I was in college, I met a minister who taught me a different version of that child’s rhyme (thinking back on the situation, it seems odd to have learned a new nursery rhyme in college, but I did) -

Here is the building.
Here is the steeple.
Open the door.
The church is the people. 

While the change in the nursery rhyme is slight, it communicates volumes concerning what the church actually is, people. 

Throughout the book of Acts, the church is said to have been persecuted, strengthened, and greeted, the church is said to have feared, sent people out, and prayed, the church has elders, and the church has people as its parts.  All of these highlight the reality that the church is people.

However, the church is not just any people.  Theologians have historically distinguished between the visible and the invisible church based on verses such as Matthew 7.15-27; 13.24-30, 36-43, 47-50; 25.1-46.  J.I. Packer, in Concise Theology (a very helpful book for understanding some basic theological ideas), writes, “Invisible means, not that we can see no sign of its presence, but we cannot know (as God, the heart-reader, knows, 2 Timothy 2.19) which of those baptized, professing members of the church as on organized institution are inwardly regenerate and thus belong to the church as a spiritual fellowship of sinners loving their Savior” (pp 201-202).  The invisible church is all of the true believers, those whom are regenerated by God and united to Jesus Christ by faith.  On the other hand, the visible church, as Christ said it would, contains not only people who are united to Jesus Christ by faith, but also some who are not united to Jesus Christ by faith (the latter might even be the most consistently attending members).  In other words, it is all those who are on the roles of the various local churches.  The distinction is a recognition that God and not men knows the heart.

Another distinction is also often made between the universal church and a particular church.  While there is a great deal of overlap, the invisible-visible distinction and the universal-particular distinction are not necessarily one-and-the-same.  The universal church is all who have been united to Christ by faith from every era.  It includes ancient believers such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, present day believers, future believers, and all those in between.  In other words, the universal church is every person that ever has been or will be united to Jesus Christ by faith (yes, Old Testament believers are included in this set as well), and it does not include anyone else.  The particular church is simply a local congregation.

So with all that said, what we are trying to do in Conway is work for the expansion of the Kingdom of God through the bringing in of new believers to the universal church organized in a particular congregation in Conway, AR, that is, start a new church.

 

 

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The Vision of Christ Church Conway

 

What is our vision for the Conway Church Plant?  What exactly are we trying to accomplish in Conway? Our vision is “to work for the expansion of the Kingdom of God by starting a new church in Conway, AR which a) will be a worshipping-community, a ministering-community, and a transforming-community and b) will work to plant and water the seeds of the gospel in the lives of individuals in Conway and all the places where we serve.

As you can see, several ideas come together in the vision statement, and these ideas need to be fleshed out a good bit.  I am going to take a few days to breakdown the vision of Christ Church Conway and flesh out the various parts.  I hope that this will increase clarity rather than cloud the issues.

I want to answer three questions today:  1) What is the Kingdom of God?  2) Why are we interested in its expansion?  3) How does starting a new church in Conway do that?  Do not worry; this has nothing to do with a new round of Crusades based in Conway.  People cannot be brought into a kingdom of grace at the tip of a sword.

What is the Kingdom of God? 

Throughout the Bible there are several synonymous terms used for the Kingdom of God; we find the Kingdom of Heaven, the Father’s Kingdom, the Kingdom of Christ, and several other parallel ideas.  The Kingdom of God is on the one hand easy to wrap our minds around.  It is the realm over which God reigns.  However, far more can and must be said if we are to begin to understand the meaning and implications of the Kingdom of God as it is presented in the Bible.  In order to be as concise as possible and as full as possible I am going to simply offer a series of summary quotes from an article on the Kingdom of God by George Eldon Ladd, a highly respected biblical scholar.  Ladd writes -

“The ‘Kingdom of God’ means primarily the rule of God, the divine kingly authority. 

“The kingdom of God is the divine authority and rule given by the Father to the Son (Luke 22.29).  Christ will exercise this rule until he has subdued all that is hostile to God.  When he has put all enemies under his feet, he will return the kingdom – his messianic authority – to the Father (I Corinthians 15.24-28). 

“Christ’s reign means the destruction of all hostile powers, the last of which is death.  The Kingdom of God is the reign of God in Christ destroying all that is hostile to the divine rule. 

“The kingdom is not as abstract principle; the kingdom comes.  It is God’s rule actively invading the kingdom of Satan. 

“The presence of the kingdom in history is a mystery (Mark 4.11).  A mystery is a divine purpose hidden for long ages but finally revealed (Romans 16.25f.).  The mystery of the kingdom is this:  Before this eschatological consummation, before the destruction of Satan, before the age to come, the kingdom of God has entered this age and invaded the kingdom of Satan in spiritual power to bring to men in advance the blessings of forgiveness (Mark 2.5), life (John 3.3) and righteousness (Matthew 5.22, 48; Romans 14.16) which belong to the age to come. 

“The redemptive rule of God creates realms in which the blessings of the divine reign are enjoyed.  There is both a future and a present realm of the kingdom. 

“The kingdom is not the church.  The kingdom of God creates the church.  The redemptive rule of God brings into being a new people who receive the blessings of the divine reign.”1

Therefore, we see that the Kingdom of God is a much-nuanced idea.  It is the reign of God, but is not only an abstract idea.  It is an actual kingdom in opposition to other kingdoms, and in the end, it will be victorious over all other kingdoms.  God not man establishes the Kingdom of God, though we can work for its expansion through the means of grace, especially the preaching of the Word, administering the sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), and prayer.  The Kingdom of God has both present and more full future aspects to it.

Why are we interested in the expansion of the Kingdom of God?

Either we are citizens of the Kingdom of God through Christ or we are citizens of some other kingdom.  There are no alliances between the Kingdom of God and any other kingdom, and the Kingdom of God will destroy all other kingdoms.  Therefore, we desire to see as many individuals as possible brought into the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ that God may be glorified through their salvation.

How does starting a new church in Conway, AR do that?

Technically speaking, simply starting a new church anywhere does not expand the kingdom.  Kingdom expansion is God’s work.  However, God has ordained means by which He grows His kingdom, such as the preaching of the Word, the sacraments (baptism and The Lords Supper), and prayer, and God has charged the church with faithfully using the means of grace in order that He may be glorified by new people may being brought into the kingdom.  There are several strong churches in Conway.  However, there are also many people who do not know the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ alone.  We have been compelled by God to come to Conway and gather people to proclaim the Kingdom of God in all the places where we serve trusting that God will be at work to expand His kingdom.

 


1 – Everett F. Harrison, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Carl F. Henry, ed. Wycliffe Dictionary of Theology (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), 309-14.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Olympics, Visa, and Covenant Theology

I love the Olympics.  I love getting to see all the athletes fight for their place in Olympic history.  I love seeing which random sports are included from year to year, such as BMX (Really?  In the Olympics?  Oh well… Go Cru!). I love the Olympic paradox – on the one hand the Olympics represent all these nations coming together in peace while on the other hand the Olympics is all these nations coming together to prove themselves dominate through sport.  I love the political jabs that are thrown.  I love the blind optimism and the unfounded confidence in the goodness of man on which so much Olympic marketing is built.  I love the marketing that accompanies the Olympics, at least in the United States. 

This year Visa has put together a whole series of Olympic commercials starring the contemplative voice of Morgan Freeman.  One of these commercials wrestles through the reasons that we like the Olympics and that we cheer for the athletes.  After eliminating several obvious options the commercial ends saying, “Perhaps it is because they are human, and when they win, we win.”  While the analogy breaks down rather quickly, because after all it is only Michael Phelps who is considered the greatest Olympic champion ever and not all humans, Visa’s commercial, in a basic way, illustrates Covenant Theology.

One of the basic ideas of Covenant Theology is that what the covenant head does counts for everyone else in the covenant.  Therefore, Paul writes in Romans 5, “For if, because of one man’s [Adam] trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.  For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

Unlike Michael Phelps’ Olympic gold medals, Adam’s sin, because he was the head of a covenant of which we are all part, actually does count for you and me.  You and I were born dead in sin, and we continue that way.  Likewise, Jesus sinless life, cursed death on the cross, and victorious resurrection, because He is the head of the covenant of which His people are a part, counts for all of His people.  Jesus is fully God and fully human.  When He dies, His people die with Him, and when He lives, His people live with Him.  In short, when Jesus wins, His people win.

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What’s in a name?

 

Why “Christ Church Conway” as the name of this mission church?  Well, it is really quite simple.

First, we are about Jesus Christ. Throughout Scripture, we see Jesus presented as preeminent in every title, analogy, and description that is given.  Jesus is God (John 1.1).  Jesus is the Son of God (John 3.16).  Jesus is the firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1.15).  Jesus is the Savior of His people (Matthew 1.21).  Jesus is the One who builds the church (Matthew 16.18).  Jesus is the Head of the church (Colossians 1.18).  Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2.11).  Jesus is King (John 1.49).  Jesus is the Groom, and the church is His bride (Revelation 21.9).  Jesus is the final and great High Priest (Hebrews 4.14).  Jesus is all of these things, and all of this is just scratching the surface with a few key ideas.  Really all of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is about Jesus Christ (Luke 24.27).  Jesus Christ is what we are about and how we are defined.  Apart from Jesus, no one is saved and there is no church.  We are not saved because we are part of the church; we are part of the church because we are saved by the blood of Christ (too often we get this backwards). 

Second, we are planting a church, a community of individuals in union with Christ by faith and therefore united to each other in Christ.  We are not planting a social club, a marketing machine, a country club, a secret society, or a social network.  We are planting a church, a spiritual body of followers of Jesus Christ organized to worship God, edify others, and proclaim the good news that Jesus is risen to a lost and dying world.

Third, and this is the simplest part, we are in Conway. 

So there it is, Christ Church Conway.

Now, why not include Presbyterian, or reformed, or any of the other buzz words that do help to define us?  Are we trying to hide something?  Are we opposed to these somehow? 

Not at all.  We are proudly Presbyterian, reformed, covenantal, Trinitarian, biblical, Westminsterian, Calvinistic, and much more.  However, Christ is basic not only to whom and to what we are, but to all of these entities and ideas.  That is, if you take Christ out, then all of these things fall apart.  

Further, while Christ accurately communicates less and less in our post-Christian world, we feel that Christ is still more broadly and accurately understood than most, if not all, of the many other descriptors that we could have included.  For example, with most people, being reformed carries more meaning connected to being an ex-convict than to being historically connected to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.

So, the name is not meant to hide or deny anything that we are, but to highlight that which is basic to who we are.

We are Christ Church Conway.

 

 

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The Power of the Gospel

A friend forwarded a blog link to me today that recoded part of the journey of a homeless crack addict through a sliver of his life as God was working to deliver this man from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.  As I read the article and explored this man’s life and music (he is also a blues musician), I was unbelievably humbled by the power of the gospel and, at the same time, unbelievably encouraged by the power of the gospel.

I was humbled because I too easily forget that the gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1.16, ESV).  Sure, I remember that the gospel “is the power of God for salvation,” but I overlook the fact that it is powerful for everyone who believes.  I forget that Jesus “came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9.13, ESV).  

In one of his songs, Daniel, the man whose life I was reading about, sang “Preacher-man, why do you look like that when you see me walking down the street?  Don’t you know that I’m watching you too, and I see just what your attitude is toward me?”  Well, I fear that the reason I look like that is because I have forgotten the power of the gospel, and I am once again living as if the gospel is for people who can hide their sin.  I am once again living as if something other than grace is what is needed.  I am living the lie that those who can hide their sin are more worthy of the gospel, and in so doing I am undermining the very gospel of grace I am called to proclaim.

However, I was encouraged because I was reminded that the gospel is actually “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1.16, ESV).  I was confronted with the reality of grace once again.  I was reminded that a white-washed tomb, like an unmarked grave, is still full of death and that God must work, through the gospel of Jesus Christ, if either will gain life.  

Praise God that His work of salvation is entirely His work of saving us, and not a joint effort as we like to believe when we are around those who make us uncomfortable.

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The Purpose of Christ Church Conway

Why do we exist?  This is an unbelievably important question to answer correctly.  As we have thought and prayed through the vision of Christ Church Conway, we have adopted a historic formulation of the general biblical teaching on this issue.  Christ Church Conway exists to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.  So, why is getting this answer right so important?

Whether considering an individual, a family, a corporation, a team, a church, a nation, or any other entity concerned with progress the most basic measure of success is purpose.  If a company fails to fulfill its purpose, making money, then the company fails.  It does not matter how many goals the company meets along the way, if the company only loses money then it is failing.  Similar examples could be given for any entity focused on progress of any kind.  However, defining purpose is not as simple as it may seem, and we must be careful to not make the mistake of wrongly defining our highest purpose, our chief end.  The reason for caution in defining our highest purpose is simple – the highest purpose should inform and define all lower purposes, goals, and methods. 

As an example, imagine a company that identified its highest purpose as pleasing the customer.  While almost every company tips its hat to the idea of customer satisfaction, no successful company makes customer satisfaction its highest purpose.  For a company to make customer satisfaction its highest purpose would mean that company and its associates would do whatever they could to make the customer the most satisfied with their products and services.  The problem with such thinking is that customer satisfaction tends to go up with quality and affordability, but quality and affordability usually are inversely related – when the price goes up affordability goes down.  Therefore, for successful companies the purpose of making money informs the limits to the purpose of pleasing the customer.

The Bible makes clear that all things exist for God’s glory.  Psalm 148 poetically commands every aspect of creation to glorify God, giving the reasons “for [God] commanded and they were created” and “for [God’s] name alone is exalted; his majesty is above the earth” (ESV).  Likewise, Paul, before concluding his doctrinal statements in Romans with practical considerations, writes, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  For who has known the mind of the Lord, who has been his counselor?  Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?  For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11.33-36, ESV).   

These and other verses lead the authors of the Westminster Shorter Catechism to include as the first question and answer, “What is the chief end of man?  Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever” (WSC #1).  God’s glory is the chief end of everything.  Therefore, God’s glory should inform and define all lower purposes, goals, and methods.  To help keep us focused on our highest purpose, Christ Church Conway has explicitly stated that our purpose, the reason we exist, is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.  

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