Archive for March, 2013

What Happened During Holy Week?

By Nathan Finn, Elder

A few years ago, Justin Taylor posted a great short series on Holy Week that looked at each day of Jesus’ final week leading into his crucifixion and resurrection. It’s a helpful resource for personal devotional study this week as you prepare for celebrating the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ this coming Lord’s Day.

1. Holy Week: What Happened on Sunday?
2. Holy Week: What Happened on Monday?
3. Holy Week: What Happened on Tuesday?
4. Holy Week: What Happened on Wednesday?
5. Holy Week: What Happened on Thursday?
6. Holy Week: What Happened on Friday?
7. Holy Week: What Happened on Sunday?

Note that there are two Sundays. The first marks the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which many churches commemorated last Lord’s Day by celebrating Palm Sunday. The second Sunday is of course the day of the resurrection. There is no post for Saturday, because on that day Jesus was dead in the tomb and his followers were despairing. But on that second Sunday, up from the grave he arose, with a mighty triumph o’er his foes!

Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted yesterday on Nathan Finn’s personal blog as well as at Between the Times. There have also been a number of informative articles published recently on Holy Week: like, (1) “The Creator on His Knees: Preparing for Maundy Thursday” by Tony Reinke; and (2) “9 Things You Should Know About Holy Week” by Joe Carter.

Image Credit: Holy Week.

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Resources for Holy Week

By Daniel Renstrom, Assistant Pastor

Christians around the world will celebrate the once-for-all death and resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday this week. Baptists often aren’t all that into the traditional church calendar—and sometimes for good reasons. Some of the days in the calendar, for example, seem too tied to the Catholic Church for many Baptists.

Even so, we Baptists believe in Jesus—the Christ who died for sinners—and the last week of his life receives lots of attention in the New Testament Gospels. With that thought in mind, here is a quote I came across this week by John Stott: “The Christian community is a community of the cross, for it has been brought into being by the cross, and the focus of its worship is the Lamb once slain, now glorified” (The Cross of Christ, 273).

When I read that, it was a wonderful reminder to me that Christ’s church should concentrate on the last week of Christ’s life—what the church has for centuries called “Holy Week.” That week of anticipation for Easter Sunday isn’t just an excuse to get more visitors, or to put enormous purple banners on display. The heart of Holy Week is Jesus—the Lamb that was led to the slaughter, who was crushed for our guilt, but who was raised from the dead on the third day in victory.

Resurrection Sunday is the culmination of all of these events. Christ’s last week—from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday—is, in fact, the reason that we can commune daily with our God. And, this is why we should set aside this special time to remember Holy Week. At FBC Durham, we have a special service, usually on Maundy Thursday, to meditate on the events that took place just before Christ’s crucifixion. We’ve done this because we think it’s important to remember and meditate upon the last week of Christ’s ministry prior to his arrest, death, burial and resurrection.

But I would also urge you to consider personally spending time reflecting on the abundant reasons to worship Christ this week.

Last week, I put together a few things that I plan on doing the rest of this week in order to meditate on the events—and the central focus of—Holy Week, and I thought it might be beneficial to share it with the readers of our blog. So here’s what I’m personally doing, and I would be delighted if you would join with me in doing these things.

First, I plan on reading all four Gospels’ accounts of Christ’s last week before the resurrection. As you read these, ask God to help you have a deeper understanding of these incredible events, and that this knowledge would lead you to worship Christ. (Here are the scripture references: Matthew 21:1–9; 26:1–28:10; Mark 11:1–11; 14:1–16:8; Luke 19:28–40; 22:1–24:12; and John 12:12–13:38; 17:1–20:10.)

Another way that I plan on focusing on Holy Week is by reading portions of good books about those events. Two books in the past that I’ve found particularly helpful on this subject are Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die by John Piper, and Christ our Mediator: Finding Passion at the Cross by C.J. Mahaney. If you have an e-reader, you can begin reading these about as soon as you get done reading this post!

Lastly, I also plan on listening to some songs that focus on Holy Week. These songs listed below are ones that I love to listen to year-round, but I’ll be giving them a few extra listens this week:

“Beautiful, Scandalous Night” by Robbie Seay:

“All Things New” by Andrew Peterson:

“Hosanna” by Andrew Peterson:

“You Have Been Raised” by Sovereign Grace:

“Christ is Risen from the Dead” by Matt Maher:

“Death in His Grave” by John Mark McMillan:

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Christ Would Rather Die than Disobey Scripture

By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor

This is the second post in my series on Christ’s view of the Bible. You’re welcome to read the introductory post here, if you haven’t done so already.

So in Christ’s life, what was his view of the Bible? Let’s start off with this: Christ would rather die than disobey Scripture. On the night that Jesus was arrested, he showed incredible courage—more so than anyone in history. When he went to the Garden of Gethsemane that night, the Scripture states that Jesus was “amazed” (Mark 14:33 KJV) with the realization of what it would be like to drink the cup of God’s wrath. He had been born to die, and that was what was at stake—and what he was always willing to do.

The Taking of Christ by Caravaggio, ca. 1602.

In the Garden that night, God the Father revealed to his Son Jesus, perhaps at a very deep and personal level, just what it would be like physically, emotionally, and spiritually to drink the cup of God’s wrath for the sins of the world. Jesus agreed to do this willingly, though the effort in prayer was so extreme that he was sweating great drops of blood (cf. Luke 22:44).

Having decided to bear the wrath we deserved, Jesus got up and went out to confront Judas—his betrayer—and the mob of soldiers with him. The betrayer had arranged a signal and kissed Jesus as a mark to indicate he’s the one that should be arrested.

The account from Matthew goes as follows:

Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way?

At that time Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled. (Matt 20:50–56)

When Peter (i.e., the companion of Jesus who desired to save him by fighting the soldiers) drew his sword and began to fight (see John 18:10), Jesus stopped him with a three-fold answer: First, all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Second, to paraphrase Jesus, “If I were trying to avoid arrest, I would simply call on the Father, and he would send a heavenly army large enough to conquer the entire world.” Third, but how then would the Scripture be fulfilled that says it must happen in this way?

The answer to Jesus’ first statement is obvious. Peter has a small personal sword (Greek macharia). He’s no match for the band of Roman soldiers there to arrest Jesus. In fact, the Greek word used of the soldiers in the parallel account of John 18:3 is speira, which implies a tenth of a Roman legion. In other words, he’ll be immediately cut down if he tries to fight.

The second statement Jesus made is absolutely stunning. It demonstrates the incredible power that is at Jesus’ disposal—the Father’s heavenly armies. Just try to picture it in your mind: twelve legions of angels would be something like 72,000 angelic warriors. And, just one angel killed 185,000 Assyrian troops in the Old Testament in one night (see Isaiah 37:36)! The angels would be “put at Christ’s disposal” by his heavenly Father, and happily willing to do anything the Son of God commanded. They would have immediately made short work of these Roman soldiers.

But Jesus had a deeper concern. He said, “But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matt 26:54). A moment later, Jesus proclaimed to the arresting mob the real reason for that evening’s events: “This has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled” (Matt 26:56).

To Jesus, this is the real issue. Jesus would rather die than break Scripture! Let me say that again: Jesus would rather die than break Scripture! In this, he stands alone atop the human race. There is no other person in history who had a higher view of Scripture than Jesus Christ did. We prove that fact every time we sin—i.e., our view of Scripture isn’t as high as his. Even the holy martyrs who died rather than denying Christ still sinned at other points in their lives.

At one point in Hebrews, the author writes, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Heb 12:4). Not so with Christ; Jesus resisted sin to the point of shedding his own blood. Jesus’ view of Scripture was that his life was forfeit to fulfill Scripture’s prophecies, and it should likewise be one of our life’s ambition as Christians to rise ever-upward to his standard in our estimation of God’s Word.

In my next post on the topic, I will consider how Jesus taught that he fulfilled Scripture, which should be posted up sometime next week.

Image Credit: Wikipedia.

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On Covenantal Church Membership

By Nathan Finn, Elder

During the Reformation era, different Christian groups were wrestling with the best way to think about the biblical covenants and their relationship to ecclesiology. Though there was some diversity early on, as a general rule Reformed thinkers argued that all of the biblical covenants were historical administrations of a single covenant of grace. From this presupposition, most of the Reformed argued that covenantal infant baptism was a better baptismal theology than the sacerdotal pedobaptism of Catholics and many Lutherans. Covenant theology continues to be the dominant view of Reformed pedobaptists, and, with some significant baptismal variations, some Calvinistic Baptists.

Anabaptist: Balthasar Hubmaier

Orthodox Anabaptists took a different route than the Reformed pedobaptists. Most Anabaptists denied the existence of a covenant of grace and focused on the uniqueness of each individual biblical covenant. Some Anabaptists also advocated a form of covenantal credobaptism by arguing that confessor baptism represented a binding covenant between the believer and God wherein the believer pledges himself to God and His church through the obedience of credobaptism. Though the covenant language is rarely invoked, the spirit of this idea lives on in many Free Church traditions, including among many Southern Baptists. (I’ve often heard baptism referred to as the new Christian’s “first act of obedience.”)

The English Separatists embraced the covenant theology of the wider Reformed tradition, but they were more radical in their ecclesiology because the earliest Separatists rejected the concept of a state church. (Unfortunately, they snuggled up with Caesar after migrating to New England.) This rejection helped contribute to the development of a covenantal ecclesiology among the Separatists. The Separatists agreed with the Anabaptists in advocating a believer’s church comprised of presumably regenerate individuals, though unlike the Anabaptists, the Separatists continued to embrace covenantal pedobaptism.

The unique Separatist contribution was organizing their churches around written covenants that obligated members to walk together under the lordship of Christ for the sake of their individual and collective sanctification.

A growing number of Separatists began embracing credobaptism in the generation between 1609 and 1650. These Separatists-turned-Baptists maintained their commitment to a covenantal ecclesiology, including the General Baptists who rejected belief in an eternal covenant of grace. By the mid-seventeenth century, there were at least four distinct groups of English Baptists: the Calvinistic Particular Baptists, the Calvinistic Independent Baptists (who embraced open membership), the Arminian-leaning General Baptists, and the soteriologically diverse Seventh Day Baptists (who worshiped on Saturdays). Each of these groups advocated not only a regenerate church membership, but following their Separatist forebears they also embraced a covenantal membership.

A commitment to a regenerate church membership organized around a written covenant also characterized most Baptist churches in America, especially by the turn of the eighteenth century. Though early on most churches adopted their own unique covenants, after the publication of J. Newton Brown’s Baptist Church Manual in 1853 (still in print today), the model covenant he included in his influential volume became the most widely used covenant among Baptist churches in America. This is the church covenant that Broadman Press reproduced in poster or plaque form that still adorns the sanctuaries and fellowship halls of thousands of Southern Baptist churches. Unfortunately, the very ease of adopting Brown’s standard covenant contributed to the downplaying of a covenantal ecclesiology among two or three generations of Southern Baptists.

Over the past decade or so, our church, FBC Durham, has reemphasized a covenantal view of membership. This is demonstrated several times a year during our corporate worship gathering when a new group of prospective members stands before our church body, introduces themselves, and publicly expresses their desire to join our church.

At some point prior to the gathering, these individuals have already met with one of our pastors and participated in a prospective member class. After the introductions, all of our members stand and recite our church’s covenant in unison while the prospective members publicly sign a copy of the covenant. It is always a meaningful time in the life of our church. Within a couple of weeks after the public covenanting, we have a member’s meeting where we vote to formally receive these brothers and sisters in Christ into our church’s membership.

I’ve been greatly encouraged in recent years to see the recovery of a covenantal, regenerate church membership among many other Southern Baptist churches besides our own. I suspect that even more Southern Baptist churches will (re-) embrace a covenantal ecclesiology as we continue to emphasize greater clarity in gospel proclamation, the centrality of both evangelism and discipleship, and the importance of redemptive church discipline.

By God’s grace, these seem to be areas where Southern Baptists of many different stripes and emphases are in substantial agreement. We should rejoice in this trend and labor together to advance it further for the sake of the health of our churches.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted on Nathan Finn’s personal blog and at Between the TimesImage credits: (1) Wikipedia; (2) A Baptist Church Manual.

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What Is Christ’s View of the Bible?: Introduction

By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor

Have you ever wondered: What does Jesus think about the Bible? Some denominations of once-conservative Christian churches have since abandoned a commitment to the Word of God as it stands today, and there are many Christians who have worried about their faith due to attacks that have been made over the centuries against the Bible.

2013-03-15_11-36-38_720

Hebrew text of 1 Chronicles 20

What I hope to accomplish in this series of posts is to help Christians who have been influenced by doubts concerning the truthfulness of Scripture. This certainly includes students in academic settings. There are even some professors at universities nearby FBC Durham who have sought to cow their students into submission by their ridicule of the Bible. They often attempt to use apparent discrepancies in the Old and New Testaments in an effort to throw their students off from the Christian faith.

The basic purpose of this series of posts is simple: (1) to encourage faithful Christians to remain committed to the Bible despite the world’s attacks; and (2) to provide helpful medicine to any Christians who are harassed by doubt due to Liberal attacks on the Bible.

The basic persuasive argument goes like this:

Premise 1: What Jesus believes should be what Christians believe;
Premise 2: Christ’s view of Scripture is that it is the perfect Word of God;
Conclusion: Therefore, all Christians should have the same view of Scripture as Christ’s

Since Christians “have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16), we have the faculties necessary to think just as Christ thinks about every topic. And we are commanded to do so, which is an inference we can take from Paul in Philippians 2:5, which states: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus …” In other words, Philippians 2:5 is a command to exercise that capacity—the mind of Christ that we have as Christians. There in Philippians 2, the context addresses an attitude of humility. However, the inference Paul makes (i.e., Christ had an attitude of humility; therefore, so should we) is one we can make toward all of Christ’s attitudes—including Christ’s attitude toward Scripture.

So, to do that, we need to seek to know how Christ viewed the Bible, and that’s what the following posts in this series will cover. Come back on Thursday, and the next post should be up.

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Taking Church Membership Seriously

By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor

One of the most significant contributions made by Baptists in church history is their clear emphasis on the doctrine of the church. And that includes church membership. For one, (1) Baptists have confessed their belief that Scripture teaches the church should be comprised of Christians only—those who are born-again (regenerate). Of course, this was a natural extension from the Baptist belief that the New Testament clearly teaches the doctrine of believer’s baptism—a doctrine which we Baptists all hold dear.

Founding covenant of First Baptist Church in Swansea, MA, 1663

As you know, before this Baptist emphasis on regenerate church membership, churches were made up of a mixture of believers and unbelievers because both were included into the church by rite of infant baptism. Back in colonial America, New England Congregationalists had a real struggle with people who were members of their local church, but who showed no signs of faith in Christ whatsoever. These people held onto their church membership, often because they had to do so in order to vote in political elections, or because it helped them in their business ventures.

Baptists had a clearer vision of what the local church was to be according to Scripture. Its membership was to include only those people who had given credible evidence (outward and visible signs like believer’s baptism and their personal testimony) of their inner faith in Christ.

Of course, we understand that these signs are no guarantee that one is truly born-again. We know, for example, that Judas deceived the other disciples for three years! But the ideal of regenerate church membership should not be cast aside just because of deceivers and the self-deceived. In Scripture, regenerate church membership is established as both a goal and as a guiding principle.

In addition to a commitment to regenerate church membership, (2) most Baptist churches in early America saw the need for a church covenant as well—a statement of mutual responsibilities and benefits between the individual committed member and the congregation as a whole. The covenant was to be signed at the time of membership by the prospective member to show a hearty agreement with the doctrine and mission of the local church.

Also, prior to membership, (3) many Baptist churches would employ classes and meetings with the pastors of the church to help instruct the prospective/new members about Baptist beliefs and to draw them into productive and fruitful membership by the use of their spiritual and material gifts.

For years, however, many Baptist churches have neglected some (or all) of these steps, often in the interest of attracting as many people as possible into membership. Perhaps this was done in an effort to show tangible progress, for an ever-increasing membership roll is easily measured and gives one a good feeling of advance.

Whatever the case may be, Christ has called us to make disciples, not just converts, and a membership roll which is three or four times as large as the average attendance for services on a Sunday morning should be a source of embarrassment for a local Baptist church. I would certainly suspect our Baptist forebears wouldn’t approve!

In our own local fellowship, FBC Durham, the early generation of leaders made a provision for a careful membership process in the constitution and by-laws, and in recent years the elders and membership of FBC Durham have taken steps toward attending to those provisions. It is my hope in writing this that it might encourage other churches to take similar steps to glorify God in taking church membership seriously.

What did this look like on a practical basis in our local church? For one, some Baptist churches have made a habit of accepting a prospective member into their fellowship immediately upon their first indication of interest. Our practice, instead, has been to lead them through a membership weekend in order to explain our beliefs and our covenant, and then to begin to lead them into active service in our church following their commitment to church membership. We still recognize our new members at a special service following our prospective new member weekend course. And, as we have followed this practice, we believe this process adheres well to the spirit of our founding leaders who saw a regenerate church membership as a most powerful tool for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom.

Image credits: (1) The Organizing Covenant of the Founders of the First Baptist Church in Swansea, Massachusetts, 1663; (2) members joining together.

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FBC Durham: A Brief Introduction

By Nathan Finn, Elder

As a historical theologian by paid vocation, I’m very interested in our church’s history. In this post, I want to provide a brief snapshot of our church’s history, priorities, and some of our present ministries. I hope you will find this helpful.

FBC Durham's Building, Prior to 1927

FBC Durham’s Building, Prior to 1927

FBC Durham was established in 1845 and is the oldest church in Durham. It was originally called the Rose of Sharon Baptist Church before changing its name to Durham Baptist Church in 1877 and then First Baptist Church of Durham in 1878. Over the years, our church has planted about a dozen other churches in and around Durham, most recently South Durham Church. We helped found the Yates Baptist Association, though in 2009 we left that body due to doctrinal concerns. Over the years, several FBC Durham pastors have served as key leaders in the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and the Southern Baptist Convention. In past years, the church has hosted state convention meetings, statewide Woman’s Missionary Union meetings, and numerous denominational conferences. Dozens of FBC Durham members have served as trustees or board members of state convention or SBC ministries.

Like many Southern Baptist congregations, especially older urban churches, FBC Durham went through its own version of the “conservative resurgence” in recent years. Between the 1960s and the 1990s, the church was served by some pastors who identified with conservatives in the SBC and others who identified with the moderates in the Convention. Because the church’s membership was relatively engaged in denominational affairs, the same division was evident among the church’s deacons, WMU officers, staff members, and other key leaders. In 1990, Allan Moseley became the pastor of FBC Durham and helped to prevent the church from affiliating with Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Allan left in 1996 to become the dean of students and an Old Testament professor at Southeastern Seminary and is now the senior pastor of Christ Baptist Church in Raleigh.

In 1998, after a prolonged interim pastorate by SEBTS preaching professor Wayne McDill, Andy Davis became the new senior pastor of FBC Durham. Under Andy’s leadership, the church went through a period of significant turmoil between 1999 and 2003. You can read about that story in an article Andy wrote for 9 Marks Ministries. You can also listen to Andy’s interview with Mark Dever about the revitalization of FBC Durham. During this period, the church developed stronger ties with Southeastern Seminary, which is located about a half hour from the church’s building. Several professors and administrators and numerous SEBTS students have joined FBC Durham since the late 1990s. The church also developed ties with Southern Seminary, where Andy Davis earned a PhD in church history. By 2003, the church had become definitively, intentionally conservative in its doctrine. In 2008, the membership approved a change in the church’s polity from a committee-driven congregationalism to a plural-elder-led congregationalism.

In the past decade, the church has renewed its commitment to evangelism and missions. The church has always had a track record of emphasizing global missions. Over the years, dozens of members have served as overseas missionaries, including at least two pastors (Andy Davis served in Japan with the IMB in the mid-1990s). The church has also been committed to short-term overseas mission trips since the 1970s. We currently have five families and two single women serving with the International Mission Board. Another couple serves with Wycliffe Bible Translators. Numerous members have served as Journeymen with IMB in recent years. Members continue to annually participate in numerous short-term trips, most of them sponsored by our church. We have been among the top 100 churches in the SBC in giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. In terms of North American missions, in recent years we have sent domestic church planters to southern Durham and Boston, as well as a NAMB-sponsored church revitalizer to Worcester, MA. We have sent short-term teams to Boston and Gulfport, MS. Many of our members are also involved in disaster relief ministries through North Carolina Baptist Men.

In and around Durham, we seek to share the gospel and meet physical needs through a variety of ministries. Our church works with Jobs for Life to provide basic vocational skills while sharing the good news with those who are without work. Several of our members partner with Child Evangelism Fellowship to work with inner-city children. We operate a Caring Center, which is a clothes closet serving those who live in the inner city. Once a year, we host a large cookout at a low-income apartment complex a couple of blocks from our church building. Twice a year, we host a Health Fair on our church’s campus, which provides free medical and dental services to folks in our community. Some of the church’s men have led Bible studies at a local prison for nearly four decades (they’ve never missed a week). We have a thriving ministry to internationals, most of whom are graduate students at Duke University and their families. Around one hundred internationals are in our church building and/or member’s homes every week for Bible study, corporate worship, ESL classes, or other ministries.

Our church has influence beyond our immediate area, in large part because of Andy Davis. Andy serves as a council member of The Gospel Coalition. He has a widely regarded expositional preaching ministry that has taken him all over America and to numerous other countries. He serves as a visiting professor of historical theology at SEBTS, where he teaches classes on the Reformation, the Puritans, and Jonathan Edwards. He regularly teaches missionaries overseas and helps walk churches through the process of reform and revitalization.

Andy is the author of a well-known and widely used booklet on Scripture memorization. He has also contributed to numerous books, including Why I Am A Baptist (B&H Academic, 2001), Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry (Founders, 2004), Those Who Must Give an Account: A Study of Church Membership and Church Discipline (B&H Academic, 2012), Whomever He Wills: A Surprising Display of Sovereign Mercy (Founders, 2012), and The Gospel As Center: Renewing Our Faith and Reforming Our Ministry Practices (Crossway, 2012). He has also contributed articles to the 9 Marks Journal, The Gospel Coalition website, Between the Times, and The Journal on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

We’ve also had a number of our members go on to serve in various full-time ministries. In addition to the aforementioned missionaries and church planters, numerous former members, most of them college or seminary students, have gone on to serve in various pastoral ministry positions. Several men serve as pastors or other ministry staff leaders in churches in North Carolina, Texas, Alabama, Massachusetts, and Florida. Current and former members serve as faculty members at Southeastern Seminary and Southwestern Seminary. Several former members serve with collegiate ministries such as CRU, Baptist Collegiate Ministries, and InterVarsity. Others have served as state convention servants, including a state paper editor.

God has blessed FBC Durham in numerous ways. We’re grateful for almost 170 years of gospel ministry. We pray for even greater faithfulness and fruitfulness in the years to come. If you live near Durham and you are looking for a good church home, I’d urge you to visit FBC Durham. You can find directions to our building and service times here.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted on Nathan Finn’s personal blog. Image credit: http://www.endangereddurham.org/Photos/firstbaptist1_postcard.jpg

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What the Church Does Better Than the World: Telling the Truth

By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor

The church of the living God is intended to be an oasis of truth surrounded by a desert of lies. There the desperately thirsty soul, crawling over the burning sands of a lying world, at last comes to life-giving refreshment. Scripture testifies to this desert when it says that “the whole world is under the control of the Evil One” (1 John 5:19) and that Satan is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

Nikolai Ge, Christ and Pilate (“What is truth?”), 1890.

This is the central role of the church in the world, to do what Jesus did in front of Pilate by testifying to the truth. When Pilate responded by saying, “What is truth?” his biggest problem was that he didn’t recognize the Answer standing in front of him or wait for the answer to be spoken by Him. By asking and then leaving, he was simply saying, “I don’t believe there IS a truth!” His cynicism is alive and well in these post-modern days in which truth is relative, not absolute.

O how thirsty the world is for the truth! Recent political campaigners have had their assertions subjected continually to a “Fact Check” on a “Truth-O-Meter,” by the Pulitzer Prize-winning website PolitiFact.com, which continually reports on assertions made by members of Congress, the President, and political lobbyists. This kind of fact check has become a bigger and bigger part of the political process, showing the yearning that citizens have for the truth. The church should realize its calling and capitalize on this yearning.

Now, it is true that the world yearns for many things, not just the truth. The world longs to have its five senses sated by pleasures, its mind diverted by entertainment, and its coffers filled with wealth. Some churches seek to gain a following by pandering to those longings, but they just end up embarrassing themselves. Churches that seek to put on a show in a worldly style, with worldly music and special effects, with worldly messages promising worldly success and pleasures, are straying badly from the one thing we do better than anyone else in the world: tell the truth.

The Apostle Paul says that the church of the living God is the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). This architectural image shows both a sense of stability and of soaring beauty. The church is the “foundation” of the truth in the same way that Jesus spoke of a wise man building a house on a rock, not on sand (Matt 7:24–25): when that structure is tested by overwhelming storms, it will not collapse.

The church is the “pillar” of the truth in the sense that it supports the soaring extension of a majestic edifice of truth, raising the truth higher and higher in the world, putting it on display for all to see, making it obvious and beautiful. The pillar is strong and tall and structural and beautiful. If the pillar is removed, the truth comes crashing to the ground. So, the church exists in the world to raise the truth as high as possible, standing immovably on truths that never change.

The Gospel of John, the same account that gives Pilate’s cynical question, gives two timeless answers, and the two are really one. Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), Jesus also prays about His people, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” So, Jesus is the truth. And God’s word is the truth. Since the Gospel of John begins with the unforgettable identification of Jesus Christ as “the Word” which “became flesh” (John 1:1, 14), the two are really one. The Truth is Jesus as He is proclaimed by the Bible.

So, churches should do this one thing as the pillar and foundation of its existence: preach the Word as it testifies to Jesus. The people of our communities can get more skillful music at the concert hall, more talented dramatic presentations at the performing arts center, more spectacular special effects at the movie theater, more unpredictable and exciting entertainment at the ball parks, better business opportunities from the venture capitalists, better intellectualism and eloquence from the universities. When the church tries to compete in these arenas, humiliation soon follows.

But when the church stands on the immovable foundation of God’s word and proclaims the truth with soaring confidence like a pillar, and adorns it with godly living (Titus 2:10), then is Christ maximally glorified by His Bride, and then are desperately thirsty searchers able to drink with eternal satisfaction.

Image credit: Wikipedia.

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