Thoughts on The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi was the highest grossing film of 2017, making over $1 billion in ticket sales worldwide. And that’s despite a mid-December release date. The highly anticipated film turned out to be a polarizing one for fans of the franchise. The director and writer of the film, Rian Johnson, took some big risks with the story set up in The Force Awakens, and Star Wars lore in general. Many didn’t like the pay off. But for me, TLJ had some layers to it which I appreciated. Unlike TFA, which was a solid but safe entry, TLJ dug deep into the characters. It made me ponder quite a bit about the human condition, which Star Wars hasn’t explored in any satisfying way since Return of the Jedi.

Star Wars has always reflected broad religious themes of good and evil, spirituality, and redemption. I think the TLJ follows suit and even ventures into some biblical themes without even knowing it. Warning: Spoilers below.

The Force Awakens in a “Nobody”

In Star Wars, it was always the force itself that determined who would have control of it’s power. One could not choose to possess the force. While there was always an undetermined number of people who had access to the force, the Star Wars narrative centered on the Skywalker family, as the force was especially strong in their line. It started with Anakin Skywalker, who was presumed to be created by the force, became a powerful Jedi, and an even more powerful Sith Lord. He had two children, Luke and Leia, with the narrative following Luke’s journey into a Jedi Knight. Leia had a son, Ben Solo, who became the powerful dark side user, Kylo Ren. When the force awakened powerfully in Rey, many speculated that she was the son of Luke, or that she had some connection to the Skywalkers.

TLJ showed us that Rey was actually just a girl from a junkyard planet, yet the force was strong in her. While the narrative will continue to follow a Skywalker (Kylo Ren/Ben Solo), our main hero is not a Skywalker at all, but still has the spirit of a true Jedi. The movie ends with the revelation that the force is awakening in others, just as it appears in who we affectionately call “Broom Kid.” Just like Rey, the force can awaken in anyone.

This reminds me of the bible’s narrative in which God chose Abraham and made a covenant with him. God promised to make him a great nation and bless the world through him (Genesis 12:1-3). The bible’s story centers on the decedents of Abraham, and climaxes with Jesus Christ who blessed the world as the messianic seed of Abraham. The bible’s story concludes with the hope of the gospel, where anyone who believes in Jesus has access to the Holy Spirit, whether Jew or Gentile. The Skywalkers are like the Abrahamic line, and Rey could represent the Gentile who believes in Christ.

In TLJ, Rey feared that she had no special lineage, and thus no significant destiny. Kylo Ren tried to entice her to the dark side by telling Rey to believe her fears. He said she is indeed no one with no place in the story, but he could make her someone of significance by his side. Like a true Jedi, she wisely avoided the temptation.

We tend to believe the same lie, that we are no one and have no significance in the story of history. But the truth is that God knows us intimately (Psalm 139:1-4), and those who have faith were chosen by God before the foundation of the world to be his children (Ephesians 1:3-6). There is no reason to give in to the enticement of the sinner.

Relativism is the Path to the Dark Side

Many fans wondered if TLJ would explore a grey side of the force, where Luke embraced the dark side, as well as the light. Thankfully, TLJ maintains the mythos that the dark side of the force is to be completely resisted by the Jedi. This is closer to the bible that consistently teaches there is no benefit from mixing darkness and light, or unrighteousness and righteousness (2 Corinthians 6:14).

TLJ does include one character who is supposed to embody a mixture of good and evil. He does whatever works for him. He represents relativism. The thief and code breaker that Finn and Rose meet on Canto Bight is DJ (which stands for Don’t Join). He says to Finn, “Good guys, bad guys, made-up words. It’s all machine partner. Live free, don’t join.” This was supposed to be a challenge to Finn who was uncommitted to the good intentions of the Resistance, and overly focused on what he cared about most—the safety of his friend Rey.

As it turns out, it wasn’t much of a challenge to Finn, and it therefore ends up being a weak plot point. Part of the problem is that there’s nothing appealing about a person who lives by relativism. One who does comes off as completely selfish, rather than enlightened. Johnson seemed to consider this when writing the DJ/Finn storyline:

Especially today, when we are bombarded by so much information and so many points of view, it’s so easy to say there are no good guys and there are no bad guys. Everything is just shades of gray. It’s seductive, because there’s some truth to it. But using that as an excuse to live selfishly is something that we all struggle against, day to day. Through DJ, Finn finds that nobody’s purely perfect or purely evil, but there are still things worth fighting for. There are things that are right and there are things that are wrong. This is not an entirely post-truth world [laughs]. There are truths that are worth standing up for. (The Art of Star Wars The Last Jedi, 143)

Johnson is right. This is not a post-truth world. It never will be. What he probably doesn’t get is that it is God who determines what is good and what is evil. If you reject that and choose any form of relativism, it will always lead to selfishness.

Not the Legend We Expected

Luke Skywalker comes across to me as a Christ-figure in TLJ. He (along with much of the fandom) expected he would rebuild the Jedi Order, which he tried to do. He was messianic in the sense of restoring the Jedi Order as ideological protectors of peace and justice in the galaxy. Luke even mentioned he had 12 followers, with one that would fail and betray him.

But in a very un-Christ-like manner, Luke contemplated murdering Ben Solo to prevent his works of evil. Everything fell apart after that moment of weakness. Ben Solo attacked Luke and destroyed the Jedi temple. Luke went into hiding on a remote island with the intention of dying there. He was more like Elijah in that sense.

Elijah fled into the wilderness wanting to die after realizing Israel would not repent of their idolatry. He saw himself as a failure, no better than the generations before him (1 Kings 19).

Elijah didn’t get to redeem himself, but Luke was able to move beyond his failure. In a Christ-like manner, Luke offers his own life for the sake of others. His final act as a Jedi would allow the remnant of the Resistance to escape the First Order and allow the rebellion to be reborn.

Luke’s portrayal in TLJ stirred up some controversy among fans. Many wanted to see Luke do exactly what he thought would be ridiculous—they wanted to see him walk out with a laser sword and take down the whole First Order. That’s the picture they had of a Jedi legend, and many couldn’t accept that the legend would die the way he did. Even Mark Hamill, who portrayed Luke, had a hard time accepting Johnson’s vision for Luke. That’s a fascinating reaction to me, as Jesus’ disciples had a similar preconception of their messiah. They expected Jesus to rule with power and restore Israel to glory. Instead, Jesus taught that he would suffer many things, die, and rise three days later. In response to this, Peter rebuked Jesus, to which Jesus responded, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:31-33). Peter was wrong to doubt Jesus’ role as a sacrifice. I wonder if fans should be doubting Luke’s role in Johnson’s Star Wars story.

I think Star Wars: The Last Jedi can be an interesting film when you see it as a story that reflects elements of the greatest story ever told throughout the whole bible. May the force be with you!

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A Biblical Theology of the Sabbath

My second course through Western Seminary was Understanding Biblical Theology, which was a study of the whole story of the bible. The video lectures and live seminar was conducted by Professor Todd Miles, Ph.D. with additional video lectures from Professor Arturo Azurdia, D.Min., and pastor/author Michael Lawrence.

The method of the class was to understand the overarching story that spans over the entire bible, the covenants that provide the structure for the bible’s story (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New), and trace concepts and themes as they develop along this story.

One theme I decided to explore was the Sabbath. I knew it would be challenging for me, as I knew I didn’t fully grasp how or why the Sabbath observance changes as we go from Old to New Testament. It ended up being so challenging that by the end of my final assignment, my view on the Sabbath changed. I came in believing that the church doesn’t observe any Sabbath day of rest, as the Sabbath command was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and we rest from our labors by trusting in Christ. I could benefit from further study on this topic, but right now I believe the church should observe a Sabbath day of rest on Sunday, instead of Saturday, for the purpose of delighting in God through reflection of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Hopefully exploring the biblical theology of the Sabbath led me to this view. Here’s some key points from my study:

  • God participated in a proto-Sabbath in Genesis 2:2-3 by resting on the seventh day in light of the six days of the creation. It’s presumed mankind would also have enjoyed a Sabbath rest for all eternity if not for sin.
  • Israel was commanded to imitate and trust God by practicing a Sabbath day of rest in light of God’s provision of manna while they were in the wilderness (Exodus16:22-30).
  • In Exodus 20:8-11, and Deuteronomy 5:12-15, a Sabbath day of rest was codified in the Mosaic law, and to be observed in all circumstances. Israel was to reflect on a God who creates (as he did in Genesis) and saves (as he did in Egypt).
  • In Isaiah 58:13-14, Isaiah equates honoring the Sabbath with delighting in the Lord. Thus the Old Testament pattern of Sabbath observance was to rest and delight in God in light of his mighty works. It’s embedded in the God’s moral law that would be written on the hearts of man under the New covenant.
  • In the New Testament, Jesus clearly valued the importance of honoring the spirit of the Sabbath law (Matthew 12:12, Mark 2:27, John 5:17). This is consistent with Jesus’ teaching on any of the Ten Commandments.
  • Paul seemed to teach observing the Sabbath was no longer required (Colossians 2:16, Romans 14:1-12). It can be argued he was referring to Jewish Sabbath observance (seventh-day rest). The first century church didn’t seem to practice a seventh-day Sabbath rest. What they did do was gather and worship on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2), most likely because this was the day the Lord was resurrected and appeared to his disciples. Perhaps this was the way to honor the fourth commandment under the New covenant.
  • The OT pattern of Sabbath observance included rest from work, reflection on God’s mighty works (creation, Egypt, manna), a convocation (Leviticus 23:3), singing Psalms (Psalm 92), and, most likely, the reading of holy scripture. The NT gathering on Sunday’s were (and still are), frankly, the same thing, only heightened by the work of the cross.
  • The gospel of Jesus Christ did more than change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. It ensured all believers will experience a Sabbath rest for all eternity in God’s new creation (Hebrews 4:9-10). For now though, the church shall persevere through rest and worship of the Lord on Sundays, in reflection of the resurrection.

The point of the assignment wasn’t to defend a particular view of the Sabbath, but to see how themes develop over a progressive revelation. For me, this was the smoothest way to describe the development of the Sabbath over the course of scripture.

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An Apostolic Hermeneutic

Can we interpret the bible like the apostles did?

This question came up in my Hermeneutics class, and in the second course I have taken, Understanding Biblical Theology. Both Patrick Schreiner and Todd Miles would answer in the affirmative. Before we get to why, let’s look at an example of how a New Testament author interpreted the Old Testament.

Take Matthew 2:14-15:

And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

This is a reference to Hosea 11:1, which says:

 When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.

In Hosea, the author is clearly thinking of Israel. In Matthew, the author says that Jesus fulfills what was written in Hosea. So Matthew takes the words of the prophet Hosea, and the historical event of the exodus, and says that it is all fulfilled in Jesus. The question is, can we do stuff like that? Can we take phrases and historical events from the bible and say its fulfillment is in Jesus, or the consummation? Some would say no, because Matthew was an inspired author of the bible, and we are not inspired. They would say the apostleship was a special office, and we are not apostles. Therefore, we are restricted to a historical-grammatical hermeneutic.

It’s true, we are not apostles, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a similar view of scripture as they did. Here are some reasons why we can and should exercise a hermeneutic like the apostles:

  • Our hermeneutic has to come from the bible. Authors of the bible, and people in the bible, interpreted scripture with a Christocentric hermeneutic, rather than a strictly historical-grammatical hermeneutic. Doing the latter would be an extra-biblical practice.
  • God is the author of the whole bible.  This means the original authors may have intended one meaning, but by divine design, there are purposes for the text, and implications from the meaning of the text, that the original authors may not have been aware of. An apostolic hermeneutic comes from a vantage point of being able to see some of the Christological fulfillments, anti-types, and allusions.
  • All of the Old Testament was about Christ. Jesus explained as much to his followers on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:27) and to the apostles (Luke 24:44-45). The work of Christ was promised throughout the Old Testament (Romans 1:1-2). Jesus is, after all, the true Israel based on the passage above (Matthew 2:14-15). It is therefore necessary to view the events of the Old Testament in relation to Christ.
  • There is more Christ in the Old Testament than the apostles explicitly reveal. Miles called Old Testament allusions to Christ “Christological Easter Eggs” and made the point that the Christological Easter Eggs we find in the New Testament, revealed by the apostles, are probably not the only ones in existence.
  • The inspired authors of scripture weren’t necessarily given a deeper understanding of the Old Testament that we no longer have access to. Miles believes the apostles were paying attention to Jesus post-resurrection, and we see some of the fruit of that in the New Testament writings. As they interpreted the Old Testament and their contemporary events, they remembered the teachings of Jesus, and came to understand how Christ fulfilled the Old Testament texts. We may not have been face to face with Jesus on the Emmaus road, but we certainly can understand that Jesus fulfills scripture.
  • No one is claiming that any one’s Christocentric hermeneutic is inerrant. The biblical writings that came from the apostle’s hermeneutic were inerrant. But that doesn’t mean the hermeneutic itself was inerrant. If we use their hermeneutic today, it doesn’t mean we are claiming to be inerrant or inspired. We are simply claiming to use the same kind of wisdom God historically worked through. After all, I don’t think God works through bad hermeneutics. And we do have the Holy Spirit to guide us, so by God’s grace, we can discover the full breadth of purposes of the Old Testament.

How to actually use an apostolic hermeneutic, and what guard rails should be in place, is for another discussion, and beyond the scope of what I wanted to point out in this post. I simply want to affirm the pursuit of an apostolic hermeneutic.

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Hermeneutical Axioms

My first course through Western Seminary was Hermeneutics, which is the study of the interpretation of scripture. All of my seminary study will be based on the bible, so it makes sense to start with a solid foundation on how to interpret it. The video lectures were conducted by Professor Todd Miles, Ph.D. with a live seminar with Professor Patrick Schreiner, Ph.D.

Hermeneutics is the science and art of interpreting the bible. It’s a science because there are organized rules you must follow when interpreting the bible. But it’s also an art because it’s a contested science. You are dealing with literature. You are dealing with stories and poems with divinely inspired authors. It takes practice and a deft touch to interpret this scripture skillfully.

Over the course, Miles provided 27 axioms to guide our study. I think it will suffice to share the first 13. These are very helpful to remember as you read the bible. Keep in mind, these are just my interpretations of his axioms.

Axiom #1: Your hermeneutics will flow directly from your convictions on inspiration.

A proper biblical hermeneutic is dependent on the belief that all the words of scripture are the very words of God (2 Timothy 3:16) yet the words also belong to the human authors, as they were moved along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21). This hermeneutic of dual-inspiration requires that you seek out what the human authors are trying to say (considering their historical and cultural context), while also trying to seek out what God is saying (considering he is the author of everything from Genesis to Revelation).

Axiom #2: Hermeneutics is, first and foremost, a theological endeavor.

As you study the bible, you must constantly consider the truths about who God is, and who we are, in order to interpret correctly. God being perfect and holy, helps us understand how his word is inerrant. We being finite creatures must work hard to discover meaning found in the text. God being a God who speaks authoritatively, and we being his subjects who must listen, helps motivate our diligent study.

Axiom #3: The Bible is God’s speech to us where God engages us.

When you read the bible, you are not just reading facts about the life and the world, but you are actually engaging with God. When you engage with God’s speech, it accomplishes what it was intended to accomplish. What God says to us will change you. If Timothy says that scripture can make you wise for salvation, then scripture will save you.

Axiom #4: One of the first questions of interpretation is: “What is God doing in this text?”

Sometimes God is giving you assurance. Sometimes he’s making promises, or giving commandments. Sometimes he’s teaching, or giving hope. Sometimes he’s trying to evoke praise in you. Don’t just analyze scripture. Let it move you.

Axiom #5: Hermeneutics is intuitive and not complicated. We are not Gnostics!

You really can interpret the bible and discover it’s meaning, not unlike how you can understand anything you read. God is a master communicator, and we were made in his image. There are no deep secrets to interpreting the bible.

Axiom #6: Faithful Bible interpreters must be fervent Bible readers.

In order to understand the smaller parts of the bible (especially the harder parts), you have to understand the whole. The more you read the whole of the bible, the more you will understand the context of the parts.

Axiom #7: The three most important things in hermeneutics are context, context, and context.

Context determines the meaning of the text. Ignoring context would be strange. No one likes to be taken out of context, and there’s no reason to do so with the biblical authors. If you feel your out-of-context interpretation is from the Lord, it is NOT from the Lord. God is a good communicator who understands context, and he inspired the authors in their context.

Axiom #8: There is a progress to revelation and redemptive history. Pay attention to it!

The whole bible contains a story with a definite and unfolding plot line. It is not a collection of abstract stories and teachings.  Each has its place in the canon and redemptive history. You have to understand what plot points and revelations come before and after the text you are reading.

Axiom #9: We cannot interpret the Bible correctly unless we understand the story of Scripture as a whole.

Just as understanding the whole will help you understand the parts, the parts will help you understand the whole. You have to know what the whole story of the bible is. Miles would say the bible’s story is God’s demonstration of his glory through the redemption of his people, that he might dwell with them, and the restoration of his Kingdom, that his rule might be acknowledged by all.

Axiom #10: For the interpretation of any biblical text to be valid, it must be consistent with the historical-cultural context.

As with any piece of writing, your interpretation of it must account for the context of the original author and audience. They lived in a different time using different languages from you. If your interpretation makes no sense to the original audience, then your interpretation is wrong.

Axiom #11: The first and best place to look for the historical-cultural context is in Scripture itself.

Much of the historical and cultural setting required to understand the meaning of the text is found in scripture itself.  The bible authors (and God himself) were good writers. Scripture is inerrant, including the historical and cultural facts embedded in it.

Axiom #12: Words have meanings, not meaning. But they have meaning in context.

Every word has a semantic range with a variety of meanings, and the context narrows that range to one meaning. The sentence is the smallest unit of meaning. Words are just the building blocks of meaning. Keep in mind, the meaning of words can change over the course of history.

Axiom #13: A genre is a type of literature with the rules that govern its interpretation.

There are different rules to consider when reading different genres, which are literary forms. These genres include narrative, law, poetry, proverb, prophecy, apocalyptic, discourse, and parable. You will miss the point of the text if you read all of the bible like a textbook.

Much of biblical interpretation is common sense. It’s also hard work, as we are dealing with ancient texts written over thousands of years. But, all that hard work is still rooted in common sense. With that said, Christian interpretation requires that the Holy Spirit move you to believe right things about God. So always start by praying.

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Western Seminary

I’m starting my seminary education today!

Two opportunities came together leading to this incredible blessing. One, my church wanted to pay for my theological training at the seminary level. And two, Western Seminary and The Gospel Coalition Hawaii were partnering together to offer a Hawaii-based cohort. Through this cohort, I’ll be working towards an M.A. (Biblical and Theological Studies), including an exegetical track that teaches Hebrew and Greek. My classes are primarily online, with some face-to-face time with my professors and cohort on Oahu.

Western Seminary is based in Portland, Oregon. It started as Western Baptist Theological Seminary in 1927. It wasn’t long before the Board of Trustees said of the seminary:

“Looking across the years… we saw coming out of Western Baptist Theological Seminary, men and women schooled to preach and teach the eternal truths of God’s Word and the redemptive love and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw pupils of sound teachers occupying pulpits and mission fields around the world.”

Western Seminary continues to strive occupy pulpits and mission fields in the same way.

My first class is on Hermeneutics, and I plan to share what I’m learning on this blog. I expect seminary to be a long, challenging, but fruitful journey… possibly for the next 5 years.

Please pray for me as I take this on, in addition to my full-time job, lay-elder ministry role, and my first child on the way on December! Praise God for this opportunity that I’ve always desired. May it all be for the glory of God!

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Why Join a Local Church?

Every Christian should be a member of a local church. That is to say, every Christian should attend, love, serve, and submit to a local church. But is it really necessary to be a member of a church? Do churches have to offer formal membership? Is church membership biblical?

I believe church membership is found in the Bible, but perhaps not in the way you might think. There are clear implications of church membership in the Bible, and the following is a brief overview of those implications.

Christians belonged to churches from the beginning

In the book of Acts, every time someone was called to God through the preaching of the gospel, they were also called to a church. After Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, the believers functioned as one church in Jerusalem. They devoted themselves to God’s word and fellowship, and God added to their number, increasing from over three thousand to five thousand (Acts 2:41-47, 4:4). They held meetings as a church (Acts 5:11-12, 6:2-5). Even when the church in Jerusalem scattered across Samaria and Syria due to persecution, the Christians continued to gather in churches, as more were added to the Lord (Acts 11:19-26).

As the apostle Paul preached the gospel on his first missionary journey, churches were being planted (Acts 14:20-23). On his second and third missionary journeys, he planted churches further west, in places like Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, and Ephesus, and he strengthened the churches and the elders he could revisit (Acts 16:5, 20:28).

All of Paul’s epistles were written to churches or men serving in a local church context. He wrote letters to churches in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, and Colossae. He also wrote letters to Timothy, who was serving the church in Ephesus, Titus, who was serving the church in Crete, and Philemon, who was hosting a church in Colossae. John’s epistles were probably intended for the church in Ephesus, and churches in the surrounding area. John explicitly addresses Revelation to the seven churches in the province of Asia. In other words, a majority of the New Testament is addressed to Christians located in the local church, where they belong.

The biblical pattern is when one belongs to Christ, he or she also belongs to the people of Christ, and this is evident in how a Christian is tied to a particular body of believers—the local church.

Christians are led by their church elders

Implications of church membership are often found in the descriptions of an elder’s role in the local church. Elders are called to shepherd God’s people (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:1-2), have charge over them (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 1 Timothy 5:17, 1 Peter 5:3), and watch over their souls (Hebrews 13:17). God will hold elders accountable for those under their care (Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 5:3-4).

The question then arises, given that elders are to shepherd the flock, who is their flock? Who do they have charge over? Which souls do they watch over? For whom are elders held accountable? Is it for every Christian they come into contact with? This can’t be the case. It benefits the elders to know, through some form of church membership, who is and isn’t under their care. Without formal church membership, much of an elder’s calling would be more burdensome than God ever intended.

It also benefits individual Christians to know, through their membership in a local church, who their shepherds are. They need to know who to submit to. Without formal church membership, it would be difficult for congregations to be obedient to Hebrews 13:17, which says to “Obey your leaders and submit to them.

Christians know and serve their church

Much of the language we find in the New Testament suggests some form of church membership with well-defined boundaries. People always knew who belonged to a local church and who did not. For example, consider 1 Corinthians 14:23:

If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?

This verse assumes the Corinthians would know when the whole church comes together, and who is outside of the congregation.

It’s important that Christians know who belongs to the church so that they know who to serve and how to serve them, to the glory of God. Scripture calls Christians to love one another, show hospitality to one another, serve one another, and gather together (1 Peter 4:8-11, Hebrews 10:24-25). Christians are called to rejoice with one another and weep with one another (Romans 12:15). They are to forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32). This is all meant to be done in the context of a local church.

Another way to serve God and one another is through church discipline. The purposes of church discipline include revealing the seriousness of sin and protecting the gospel of Jesus Christ. The final stage of church discipline is putting someone outside the church. (See Matthew 18:15-20 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-13.) This implies churches must have some form of church membership to help each other know who belongs to the church. You can’t put someone outside the church unless you know who is inside the church.

In summary, any time God joins someone to Christ, God joins them to the body of Christ—the church. As a member of the body, they are to love and serve the other members in a local church, gather together, submit to their elders, and discipline those who do not appear to belong to the body. This would all be difficult to do (and confusing) without formal church membership.

While there is no explicit command in the Bible to formally join a local church, the implications of church membership throughout Scripture are compelling. For that reason, it would be unwise for a believer to neglect membership to a local church.

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Congregationalism: Part 6 – Authority For Maturity

keysWho is really responsible for the ministry?

In my job, when I write a report, my supervisor is required to sign it below my own signature. Why? Because my supervisor is ultimately responsible for the report I wrote. She has the final say in whether or not what I write is valid. Make no mistake, I am responsible to write that report. It will not get done unless I write it. I bear a big responsibility in getting it done. But its validity will ultimately fall on my supervisor shoulders, no matter how sure I am that my report is valid.

Is this what the ministry is like? Do church members do the ministry, while elders have a final say in what the ministry is actually doing? If only elders have the authority to affirm who is a member, for example, then that is exactly what is happening.

I believe the responsibility of the ministry of disciple-making is fully given to the whole church. Elders equip the saints for the ministry, they guard the gospel, they teach sound doctrine, and they shepherd the flock. They are authorized to do so. The whole church, however, is authorized to decide what the gospel is, and who belongs to the gospel. I think that is what is gathered from Matt. 16, 18, and 28.

Besides the biblical evidence for congregationalism, I also think there’s a pastoral reason to consider this view. Congregations that are responsible for deciding who does or does not belong to the gospel, are going to know the gospel better. They are going to better understand repentance, grace, the effects of sin, the power of the Holy Spirit, and anything else connected to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Going back to my work example above, a lazy worker will write a report carelessly, and depend on the supervisor to bring to light any mistakes. The lazy worker knows the supervisor will care enough to catch the flaws, since the supervisor is ultimately responsible. I bet if every worker was fully responsible for what’s in their report, they would exercise more caution.

If your interpretation of scripture leads you to believe the elder-rule model is biblical, then you’re possibly taking away an important opportunity from the members. In every church that takes membership seriously, elders need to regularly practice discernment over their members so they know who belongs to the gospel, and thus, who belongs under their care. Exercising those discernment muscles is a blessed work. You will know the gospel better through this blessed work. Why exclude the members from this work? Why wouldn’t God give the members the authority to do such a work?

I believe God wants members to mature, and grow in the knowledge of the gospel, and he gives the church a certain authority that enables them to do exactly that.

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