Royal Ambassadors

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How often do you think of yourself as a representative of King Jesus? How much of your life is spent on the mission that he has given to you?

Throughout the Bible we see many powerful metaphors to help us understand what it means to be the church and what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Some of the most common are the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the family of God, the temple of God, etc. But one of the best and most unsung is the embassy of Christ.

An embassy is:

Embassy

  1. A body of persons entrusted with a mission to a foreign government, especially an ambassador and his or her staff.
  2. A body of diplomatic representatives

And an ambassador is:

Ambassador

  1. An authorized messenger or representative.
  2. A diplomatic official of the highest rank, sent by one sovereign or state to another as its resident representative

Where is this in the Bible? Though this example is not nearly as common as some of the others, it is nonetheless very present in Scripture. Throughout Exodus and Deuteronomy the Israelites are “sojourners” in a foreign land. In Hebrews, the author reminds believers that they, like Israel in the time of Moses, are strangers in this world and their true home is the city God is preparing. In Philippians and Ephesians, Paul refers to himself as a “citizen” of heaven and an ambassador for Christ. And perhaps most clearly, in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul reminds the church that they too are ambassadors and that God is “making his appeal” to the world through the church.

God has called Christians to be his ambassadors, his authorized representatives; and he has called churches to be embassies; groups of ambassadors that all have the same objective. Churches ought to be little localized outposts of the kingdom of God. Churches are supposed to look like, act like, and function in the same way that the kingdom of God does. Christians, as ambassadors, are likewise called to live the same kind of lives that we will when out citizenship in the future kingdom becomes complete.

So what exactly does that mean for us? Who and what do we represent? Where is our “homeland”? How long are we on this mission? How are we supposed to go about it?

1. We represent a King and a kingdom

As Christians, we no longer live for ourselves but for Christ and his kingdom. We should look different, act different, speak different, and live different than the culture in which we live. We should be representing Christ’s character, his love, his commands, and his purposes to the world around us. We have been sent to the foreign land of this world in order to represent our King and our kingdom’s interests. The problem is that most of us look just like everyone else. We spend our money the same way, we dress the same way, we talk the same way. But that isn’t the way it is supposed to be. Just like you can tell when someone isn’t a native to where you live, the world should be able to look at Christians and say, “That person clearly isn’t from here. Where are they from?” Would people say that of you?

2. We have the King’s mission and message

In Matthew 28 and Mark 16 Jesus commissioned his disciples and believers everywhere of all time for a specific task – to go, baptize, teach, and declare the message of reconciliation to the world. Our mission is to declare the gospel message to the foreign land around us so that they too might become citizens of the kingdom. God has entrusted to us, as stewards, the treasure of the gospel that we are to share with the world. We are to be a city on a hill, a light in the darkness, drawing people toward Christ.

3. We have the King’s authority

Jesus sent his disciples out with his own power and authority in Luke 9. He has given the church the keys to the kingdom (Matthew 16) and told us that the gates of hell will not prevail against us and that it is through us that the “manifold wisdom of God” becomes known (Ephesians 2). He has gifted us with his Spirit so that we might possess his power and authority. He has not sent us out on this mission empty handed, for he has given us his very own authority.

4. We have the King’s protection

We have been granted asylum as refugees. We fled from our former lives of slavery to sin and to the kingdom of God where we were granted access because of Jesus’ love and sacrifice on the cross. We have been given protection through our citizenship. Though we may be afflicted in every way, perplexed, persecuted, ad struck down, we will never be crushed, driven to despair, forsaken, destroyed, or totally overcome. As citizens of heaven, no matter what happens in this life, we have been given the promise that God is with us and our citizenship is secure.

5. We are on temporary assignment

We are resident representatives, but only for a while. This foreign land is not our home, for our true homeland is the city that God is preparing for us while we are away on the mission. We are always waiting and longing for the return of our King and our entry into the completed kingdom of God. Because this is true, we shouldn’t get too comfortable in this life because we won’t be here for long. If you were going on vacation, you would pack light. In the same way, we should “pack light” in this life and instead store up for ourselves treasure in heaven. This treasure is accumulated through obedience to Christ’s mission and message.

6. We are not to isolate from culture

While the people of Israel were in Babylonian captivity, they were not called to isolate from culture but to seek the good of their neighbors and captors. Though we are called to represent Christ’s kingdom and interests in this world, that does not mean that we are to totally isolate from culture. We cannot possibly be successful ambassadors for Christ if we are not involved in, familiar with, and connected to the culture around us. We should understand, contribute to, and strive to better the culture while we are here in this land. We have a different King, a different mission, a different drive in life – but in order to represent our King and his kingdom, we must be a visible part of our culture.

7. Citizenship is only possible because of Jesus

Lastly, and most importantly, we must always remind ourselves that our citizenship is only possible because of Jesus. He is our passport; he is the one that vouches for us and grants us citizenship. And he is the only way into the kingdom. There will be a day when many who want to enter the kingdom will come and Jesus will say to them, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” Jesus is the only entrance, the only path to citizenship. Knowing the King himself is the only way in.


What does it mean to you to be an ambassador for Christ? How often do you embrace your role as an ambassador? Do you think you and your church do a good job of representing Christ and his kingdom to the world?

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How to Combat False Teaching

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Jesus warned the church about false teachers. Paul warned the church about false teachers. Peter warned the church about false teachers. James warned the church about false teachers. Jude warned the church about false teachers. John warned the church about false teachers. I recently wrote about 10 warnings and characteristics of false teachers. But how should churches and Christians respond to false teachers?

1. Watch out for them (Romans 16:17, Matthew 7:15)

Expect them to come and be ready to respond when they do. We must be paying attention and “watching out” for false teachers. Christians and churches must keep their eyes open so that we are able to identify false teaching immediately. If we are going to combat false teaching in our churches, we must be aware of its presence among us and constantly keeping watch.

2. Avoid them (Romans 16:17)

After we identify false teachers, what do we do then? When they do come (and they will) we should give them no platform, no authority, no voice, and no way in. They should be avoided at all costs. The New Testament writers had no patience, tolerance, or kindness towards false teachers. We shouldn’t try to “nice” them to God – we should avoid them.

3. Test them (1 John 4:1)

See whether or not they are from God. If we are to refute false teaching, we must know true teaching well enough to identify it when we hear it. Test all teaching against Scripture in order to discern whether or not they are of the Lord.

4. Look for Godly fruit (Matthew 7:15-20)

If they are true believers and teachers, there will be fruit. False teachers give off a vibe and facade of fruitfulness, but once their lives and hearts are closely examined and exposed they are found to be fruitless. Examine the scriptures, know what Godly fruit is, and look for it in the lives of all teachers, especially those who might be false.

5. Focus on Christ, the gospel, and God’s word (Galatians 1:8, 1 Timothy 6:20-21, Acts 17:11)

If we are so familiar with and so knowledgeable about Christ, the gospel, and the Bible, false teaching will not be able to take root in our hearts. Through such focus, we will guard ourselves against false teaching. That way, even when we hear false teaching, we will be able to identify and refute it immediately.

6. Contend for the true faith, rebuke false teaching (Jude 1:3, Titus 1:9)

When false teaching does arise, we must combat it fiercely and contend for the true faith. Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John have stronger words against false teachers than we usually hear taught in churches today. We mustn’t be soft or gentle when it comes to fierce attacks on truth itself. We ought to fight for truth without fear or reserve.

7. Help prevent those close to the edge from “departing” from the truth (1 Timothy 4:1)

Teach and enforce sound doctrine. Correct small missteps when they occur. Disciple church members and people in your life into the truth. False teachers prey on the naive and weak in the faith. We have a responsibility to guide and direct new and young believers in truth and away from false teaching.

8. Focus on the truth, even when it is hard to hear (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Paul warns Timothy that people will “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions”. Some people look for teachers who will only tell them what they want to hear – we must avoid this in order to combat false teaching. Christians must focus on the truth and welcome the truth even when its harder to hear than the lies of false teachers.

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What else would you add? What must churches and Christians do in order combat false teaching? Have you ever faced false teaching in your church? If so, how did you respond?

Is Church Membership REALLY Biblical?

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We live in a culture that glamorizes non-commitment. We hate cell phone contracts, cable contracts, or any other type of contract that might “tie us down”. We want to be able to change our plans, hop around, and do whatever we want whenever we feel like doing it. While this is not necessarily wrong, it certainly causes some problems when it comes to living the Christian life. The Bible is God’s written word that details how followers of Jesus are to live. The problem is that much of what the Bible teaches about community and church is the opposite of our natural and cultural inclinations when it comes to commitment.

But is church membership really biblical? How could it be if we never see the words “church membership” or the command “you should be a church member” anywhere on the pages of the Bible? Well, you also never see the word “Trinity” in the Bible anywhere and yet it is very visible and clearly seen throughout the pages of Scripture that God is one God, three persons: Father, Son, Spirit. This is a foundational theological truth that lies at the foundation of most believers’ faith. So we must be careful not to assume something is unbiblical simply because we don’t see the word in the Bible.

In order to answer this question we must remind ourselves that our Trinitarian God cares about community, established the church community, and in himself exhibits perfect community. Too often we focus on the “me and God” and neglect the “we and God” – we emphasize our own personal relationship with Jesus and forget that we are called into a community that God established called the church. To be a Christian, according to the Bible, is to be in community and in relationship with God and others believers. This involves suppressing the individualism that runs rampant in our hearts, minds, and culture and instead embracing the community of God – the church.

But what is this community of God? If we are going to answer the question “Is church membership really biblical?” then we must define what the church is. The Greek word for church in the New Testament is “ecclesia” or “ekklesia”. The root of the word means “called out” and the whole word means “a gathering or assembly of called out ones”. Maybe you’ve heard the whole universal church (every believer everywhere) vs. local church (specific local gathering of believers) discussion before. The New Testament uses the word “church” to describe both the universal church and the local church. But implied in the definition of the word itself is a physical gathering of some kind. By definition, church requires gathering. Though we may get a taste of the universal church in our daily lives – maybe on an international mission trip or even worshipping with another congregation while on vacation, the way that we most commonly experience church in our daily Christian lives is on a local level.

With that mind, please allow me to offer up a basic definition of church. Many wiser and more educated men have provided better definitions, but here is my attempt:

Church – A local, organized gathering of believers who are in a loving and committed relationship with Jesus Christ and one another.

Your first thought might be, “Wait, organized? I’m not sure about that.” I’ve frequently heard the argument that organization kills churches or kills the Spirit’s movement in churches. Many view organization as a bad thing. At a certain point, this can be true – when things are over-structured we might miss the Spirit’s leading. But the early church was organized and the modern church should be as well. Most of Paul’s ministry revolved around establishing new churches, raising up leaders, teaching sound doctrine, and teaching local, organized gatherings of believers (in places like Ephesus, Corinth, Colossae, Galatia, etc.) how to be Christians in the church community. Here is some evidence that the early church was organized:

  • Galatians 1:2 – Paul wrote to the “churches in Galatia”. Not just to the universal church in Galatia, but to local and organized gatherings of believers in the region.
  • Acts 2:47, 5:14, 6:1, 11:24, 16:5 – Acts records that the early church kept track of members and numbers and updated how many Christians there were in churches regularly.
  • 1 Timothy 5:2-16 – The church in Ephesus had an organized ministry plan. Specifically, they had a structure and procedure for how to provide for some (but not all) of the widows.
  • Acts 6:1-6 – The church in Jerusalem organized deacons to help meet the physical needs of the church members so the apostles could remain devoted to preaching.
  • Acts 13 – The first church organized missionary teams to be sent out. Paul didn’t go rogue on his own – he was sent out by a church, as should missionaries be today.
  • 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 – Paul taught all the local churches he planted to participate in an organized display of generosity through the offering. In several places in his writings, Paul says that he taught all the local churches he planted to operate the same way.
  • Acts 6:1-6 – The church in Acts formally selected leaders. They did not declare themselves as leaders – there was an organized process.
  • 1 Corinthians 14:40 – Paul reminded the church that their gatherings were to be “decent and in order”. In the same passage he says that God is not a God of chaos but of order. Therefore churches too should be a place of order.

This list is just the beginning of the biblical evidence that churches are to be organized and conduct their work orderly. No matter how you slice it, the Bible teaches that churches should be organized. But just because the church should be organized doesn’t necessarily mean that church membership is required, does it?

But wait, there’s more! There are also a number of vital teachings and commands of both Jesus and Paul that cannot possibly be fully obeyed and lived out apart from church membership. Doubtful? Lets take a closer look at some key doctrines of the church that are extremely difficult and perhaps impossible to obey fully outside commitment and submission to a local, organized gathering of believers.

1. Leadership

Hebrews, 13:7, Hebrews 13:17, Titus 2:5, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

In Hebrews 13 the author tells us that we should remember, imitate, submit to, and obey church leaders. He also tells us that church leaders will give an account for those in their care. How could these commands possibly be followed apart from local church membership? Are we as Christians supposed to imitate all leaders? Are we supposed to submit to the teaching  of anyone who claims to be a Christian leader anywhere in the world with any doctrine even if we’ve never met them before? And from the leader’s perspective – are leaders going to give account for the whole universal church? Will I, as a pastor, be responsible for the souls of every believer in the world, even if I don’t even know them? Without committed and covenantal church membership, knowing one another and sharing in relationship together, leaders cannot give an account and Christians will not know whom to remember, imitate, submit to, and obey.

2. Church discipline

Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 5, 2 Corinthians 2:5-8, Hebrews 12

No one likes to talk about, think about, or carry out church discipline – but it is nonetheless a biblical command of both Jesus and Paul. Church discipline is the process of correcting sin within a local church. Because the church is the holy body and bride of Christ, sin cannot be allowed to persist. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul teaches that church discipline is to be done to the unrepentant inside the church, not to those outside. He concludes by commanding the church in Corinth to “expel the wicked person from among you”, also adding that they should not even dine with the man. Paul is commanding the church to remove this sinful member from “insiderness”. Clearly to Paul there was a formal “inside” and “outside” of the church in Corinth. If someone was never actually in, they cannot be removed. Without some degree of church membership, church discipline becomes impossible. If there is no formalized “in” group, then a person cannot be removed from it. Church discipline is necessary to keep the church pure and holy, and church membership is necessary to properly perform church discipline.

3. Baptism & the Lord’s Supper

There are many Scripture passages about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These are known as the “ordinances” of the church. In other words, they are formal and ordained practices of the church designed to be carried out for the church of God. The New Testament shows us that every believer should be baptized and every believer should participate regularly in the Lord’s Supper. Both of these extremely meaningful spiritual practices were designed to be observed within a local church context. These are not only opportunities for individual Christians to identify with Christ, they are also opportunities for local churches to affirm the authenticity of the faith of those individual believers. At my church, we don’t just baptize anyone. We baptize people who have displayed evidence of a transformed life and a genuine encounter with God. Apart from the context of church membership, even such spiritually meaningful practices struggle to find their complete biblical fulfillment.

4. Spiritual Gifts

Romans 12, 1 Peter 4, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4

Spiritual gifts are supernatural gifts given by God, to believers, for the building of the church or “for the common good”. Spiritual gifts are not intended to be used for the recipient but for the good of those around them – particularly those of the household of God. Though spiritual gifts tests can be helpful, the best way to learn what your spiritual gifts are is to have people who know you well speak into your life. I don’t have a spiritual gift simply because I say I do or a test says I do. Spiritual gifts are the gifts that God has given to us that when we use them – the church is built up. I may think I have the gift of faith but if the believers in my life closest to me are not having their faith strengthened by me, then I either do not possess that gift or I am neglecting the proper use of that gift. The best way to understand our own spiritual gifts is by committing to, submitting to, serving alongside, and participating in the life and ministry of a local gathering of believers. Likewise, the best way to use our spiritual gifts is to build up the local group of Christians to whom we have committed our lives.

5. Protection from false teaching

Romans 16:17, 1 John 4:1, 2 Timothy 4:3, Galatians 1:8, Jude 1:4

Almost every New Testament book warns Christians about false teachers and gives advice for how the church should respond to them. Churches should have agreed upon doctrine, agreed upon leaders, and agreed upon practices for many reasons – one of which is protection from false teachers. Jude warns that false teachers “creep in unnoticed” and Peter warns that they “operate in secret”. A “whoever wants to come” mentality is mandatory when it comes to outreach and ministry to unbelievers, but foolish when it comes to church membership. With no examination or vetting process it becomes virtually impossible to protect against false teaching and poisonous influences in local churches. Church membership is perhaps the single best way to prevent against false teaching in local churches.

6. The “One Another” commands

And finally, every “one another” command (I found 18 in a brief search) that the New Testament gives us is most fully obeyed in the context of church membership. It becomes very difficult to “bear one another’s burdens, “be devoted to one another”, “meet with one another regularly”, “confess your sins to one another”, or “stir one another up to good works” apart from being in a loving and committed relationship with God and a local group of believers who meet regularly together.


So in conclusion, is church membership really biblical? Not only is it biblical, but being a Christian without submitting and committing to a local church is unbiblical and unhealthy.

What are your thoughts? What do you think about church membership?

10 Characteristics of False Teachers

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When was the last time you thought about false teachers in the church? Have you had to combat false teaching recently? Is there false teaching in your church? Is it possible that you have been influenced by false teaching? These are important questions for every believer and every pastor to address. Much of the power of false teachers lies in the shadows of secrecy and disguise. If false teachers/false teaching is never openly discussed, warned against, or rebuked, we run the risk of slowly but surely allowing ourselves to be influenced (or overcome) by false teaching.

Jesus warned the church about false teachers. Paul warned the church about false teachers. Peter warned the church about false teachers. James warned the church about false teachers. Jude warned the church about false teachers. John warned the church about false teachers. Here are 10 timeless warnings and characteristics of false teachers:

1. They creep in unnoticed (Jude 1:4)

Not every false teacher is easy to spot. In fact, most are not. Most false teachers sneak in quietly without being noticed. They blend in, look like everyone else, and no one usually looks twice at them. Then, when opportunity strikes, they begin to influence a church negatively.

2. They operate in secret (2 Peter 2:1-3)

They enter into churches unnoticed and they slowly and quietly introduce false teaching and ideas contrary to Scripture. The false teachers we ought to worry about are not the loud, obvious ones; they are the quiet, sneaky ones that operate under our noses without detection.

3. They have many followers (2 Peter 2:1-3)

False teachers are not likely to be despised, hated, or ridiculed. Rather, they are usually likable, amiable, popular, and easy to follow. The Bible warns us that false teachers will often gain a loyal following of those led astray. If possible, they will even lead astray the elect of God (Mark 13:22)

4. They create division and obstacles (Romans 16:17)

False teachers are known for causing division and creating obstacles within churches. They cause arguments, quarrels, and disagreements over theology, practices, and anything else they can get people to argue about.

5. No matter what it seems like, they do not have God (2 John 1:7-11)

John makes it clear that no matter what they say and no matter what it seems like, false teachers do not genuinely have God. They are masters of disguise and manipulation and purposely masquerade as true believers, but their faith is not real.

6. Some began in sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:1-5)

Some false teachers began in sound doctrine and true faith but then wandered away from the truth. This may be a pastor or a small group leader who was teaching sound doctrine when they began, but has since wandered into teaching falsities.

7. Their words seem intelligent (1 Timothy 6:20-21, Colossians 2:8)

False teachers are not only amiable and popular, they are also usually intelligent by worldly standards. They come across as wise and convincing in their false teaching, so that many mistake their worldly wisdom for spiritual wisdom.

8. They look like legitimate apostles of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:13-15, Matthew 7:15)

Most false teachers will look on the outside like authentic followers of Christ. Jesus himself says that they will look like sheep on the outside, but on the inside they are wolves seeking to destroy. Many false teachers creep in unnoticed, operate unnoticed, and remain unnoticed because they appear to be legitimate followers of Christ.

9. They target the spiritually naive (Romans 16:17-18)

False teachers are cunning and covert and will set their sights on churches and people that are spiritually naive and susceptible to false teaching. We must guard the impressionable among us (new believers, children, etc.) Like a wolf attacking the smallest and weakest deer, false teachers will attack the smallest and weakest believers.

10. They twist Scripture (1 Timothy 6:3-5, 2 Timothy 4:3-4)

 

False teachers make the Bible say what they want it to say. They are masters of twisting the words, warping the meaning, and convincing their audience that the Bible says something other than what it says. They are masters of convincing people that they are teaching biblical truth when in reality they are teaching falsities or half truths, which are often more dangerous than complete falsities.

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Churches must be on guard against false teachers. If we do not keep our eyes open, focus on the truth of the Bible, and consciously rebuke false teaching when we encounter it – we run the risk of being led astray or perhaps even completely overcome by wolves and the schemes of evil.

What has been your experience with false teaching in the church? How have you had to combat it? What other identifiers would you add to the list? What should churches do to protect against false teaching?