In Defense of Church Membership

Among other reasons that could be given, I believe the practice of formal church membership is necessary in our context in light of the presence of denominationalism, false churches, and worldly living that is clearly at odds with the Christian life. Individuals commit to a church’s confession and covenant in order to identify themselves in a certain way and distinguish themselves from others in both what they believe and how they live.

The NT indicates that the church should practice what we call church membership. The church knew who its members were and were not by what they believed and how they lived. While this practice may look more formal or informal from one congregation to the next, it is a practice that exists to one degree or another in every healthy, biblical church. Below are a few strands of evidence from the NT that together make a strong argument for church membership.1

Lists
The early churches knew their constituencies with precision. They kept track of who was “added,” sometimes recording the number (Acts 2:41; cf. 2:47; 5:14; 11:24). Within that number, a church could even track its widows and their ages (1 Tim 5:9).

Specific Ministries and Accountability
Knowing its membership, a church could choose members for specific ministries and hold them accountable. Peter was accountable to the church in Jerusalem for making disciples (Acts 11:2, 18), Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 11:22), and Barnabas and Saul together to Antioch (Acts 13:3; 14:27). Churches sometimes appointed representatives to minister to or inquire of other churches as well (Acts 15:22; 2 Cor 8:19–20; cf. 8:18–21).2

Church Officers
Churches have pastors (1 Tim 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9), which assumes established bodies of people who are accountable to follow their leadership (cf. 1 Thess 5:12–13; Heb 13:17). Likewise, deacons are men initially suggested by the church from within the church’s membership to its leadership for their respective ministries (Acts 6:3).

Church Discipline
A defined membership for the church is necessary to exclude those who do not belong (Matt 18:15–17). This exclusion is for those who, in significantly deviating in doctrine or practice, are no longer identifiable as Christians (e.g., 1 Cor 5:1–13), and it is carried out by a majority vote of the assembled church (2 Cor 2:6).

Voting
Just mentioned above, Paul described a repentant individual as one once excluded by “the majority” (2 Cor 2:6). Having a clearly defined membership, the Corinthians knew their exact number in order to determine a majority vote.

In a leadership situation, Luke used the verb cheirotoneō in Acts 14:23 to refer to the appointment of elders, literally meaning to “stretch out the hand” in a voting situation.3 The members voted their pastors into leadership, which again assumes the churches knew who their members were and who could vote.

From Acts 6:3 above, the same word for appointing deacons (kathistēmi) is used of elders  in Titus 1:5, which means that elders, too, were suggested by members from among the membership, implying a clearly defined church membership.

Summary
While an early church may not have been as formal as many churches today, there was at least an expectation of belief and living necessary for being admitted into its membership, an admission carried out by the existing membership. However formal or informal a church may be about the matter, the NT indicates that church membership must be present in some way.

  1. Good summaries of church membership are found in Thabiti M. Anyabwile, What Is a Healthy Church Member? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 65–66; Mark Dever, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 147–165; and Jonathan Leeman, Church Membership (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 35–48. []
  2. Kevin Bauder, Baptist Distinctives and New Testament Church Order (Schaumburg, IL: Regular Baptist Press, 2012), 92–99. []
  3. BDAG, s.v., “χειροτονέω.” []

What Is an Evangelist?

Only three verses in the NT in use the title “evangelist”: “On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him” (Acts 21:8 ESV); “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” (Eph 4:11 ESV); “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim 4:5 ESV).

From 2 Tim 4:5, in following Timothy’s example, we see that we are to do the work of an evangelist, though we might not be called as evangelists ourselves. From Eph 4:11, we see that Christ gave evangelists to the church. Were we to read on in Eph 4:12, we would see that the purpose for their giving was “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12). From Acts 21:8, we have an illustration of an evangelist in Philip. Looking back at his life, he was “one of the seven,” one who was “of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3). As an evangelist, he proclaimed the gospel to crowds in Samaria (Acts 8:5–6), the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26–38), and to all the towns within his roughly 55-mile trek from Azotus to Caesarea (Acts 8:40).

Added to this, we could remind ourselves that the verb evangelizō is used over 50 times in the NT, meaning “to bring or announce good news.” For the Christian, it is to preach the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ to unbelievers (e.g., Acts 8:40). Along this line of thought, other words are used for preaching, specifying the content to be the evangelion, that is, the gospel (e.g,. Mark 1:15).

From this terribly brief survey, we could at least say that an evangelist is someone who takes the gospel to those who have not heard it before, whether it be to one person at a time, or large crowds within a given city. It is someone who does not stay long in one place, likely leaving behind planted churches so that he can take the gospel to new places that have never heard it before. And yet, he is also someone who ministers to the saints by equipping them for the work of the ministry, likely teaching them to do what he himself is specially gifted to do, namely, persuasively giving the good news of the gospel to unbelievers.

May we all do the work of an evangelist, and may God bless the evangelists who take the gospel to where it has not been heard.

Can a Pastor, Deacon, or Their Wives Be Divorced and Remarried?

2015.09.16 - just-the-two-of-usThe titled question is difficult to answer. When divorce happens, there has been a failure and breakdown somewhere by one or both people in a marriage. Tears, frustration, and pain are the result. Nonetheless, each church has to answer this question for itself, and below is the answer by me for my own church on the matter.

Let me clarify that I realize that many topics below are debated:

  • Whether or not divorce is permissible beyond the Pauline privilege in 1 Cor 7:15
  • Whether or not remarriage is permissible in the case of biblical divorce
  • Whether or not a church’s officers can be divorced and remarried
  • The meaning of “a one woman man,” a phrase from 1 Tim 3:2
  • Whether or not Acts 6:1–7 actually speaks about deacons
  • How to understand the Mosaic Law for believers today
  • Baptist polity

This being said, my conclusions below may just be appreciated by no one but me, but I charitably put them here for the sake of those in my church and others to think of at least one way to apply the truth as it concerns a difficult topic.

To begin, it is helpful to remember the unique situations in which a Christian is permitted a divorce. Consider these three:

(1) sexual infidelity by the spouse (Deut 24:1; Matt 5:32; 19:9)

Moses allowed men to divorce their wives who had intentionally sexually sinned in some way (cf. “indecency” in Deut 24:1 with Matt 19:7; Mark 10:4), and Jesus did the same (Matt 5:32; 19:9). At the same time, we should remember that one’s first goal should be to forgive a spouse when sin has taken place, difficult though it may be. Jesus teaches us to seek how a marriage can last for life, not to seek loopholes for how it can end (Matt 19:3–6; Mark 10:6–8).

(2) denial of food, clothing, or marital relations (Exod 20:10–11)

Exod 21:10–11 instructed Israel about a female servant who became a man’s second wife. She was expected to be treated as a wife and nothing less, complete with the husband’s provision of food, clothing, and sexual relations. Otherwise, she was free to divorce and leave him (Exod 20:11).

(3) the desertion of an unbelieving spouse (1 Cor 7:15)

From 1 Cor 7:15, Paul allowed a believer to let his or her unbelieving spouse to desert the marriage if the marriage could no longer be peaceful in light of the believer’s conversion.

To clarify, the verses above from the Law of Moses are not technically binding on NT believers today (cf. Rom 10:4). At the same time, when the NT has not clarified the mind of God further on a given matter concerning marriage, the Mosaic Law can be informative for us today, allowing us to make the conclusions above. Added to these conclusions is this: if someone has divorced on biblical grounds, such a one is no longer bound to the previous marriage and is free to marry again (see 1 Cor 7:15 with 7:39).

Given the incredibly short summary of the view above (which would have a book’s worth of clarifications if given the space and time―please don’t assume the worst from the above), when it comes to answering the question of whether or not pastors and deacons or their wives can be divorced and remarried (assuming the divorce and remarriage were biblically permissible), we should respect another church’s decision to answer this question with a yes.

My church’s standard as a whole is to have faithful divorcees (who may or may not be remarried) serve as much as possible but not in the capacity of being an officer in the church. There are at least two reasons, biblical and practical, that allow us to make this conclusion.

First, officers must be above reproach in the life, which includes their marital situation, past and present (Acts 6:3; 1 Tim 3:1–13).

Since it is such a significant issue, it is best to include one’s marital circumstances in considering whether one is “of good repute” and “above reproach” or not (Acts 6:3; 1 Tim 3:2). To clarify, one may believe that he himself or another has been divorced and remarried on biblical grounds, but others may not. To be safe, a church may choose to hold a high standard in this regard in order to avoid controversy and unnecessary slander by those who fail to understand the circumstances of a given divorce and remarriage.

Similarly, pastors must be “well thought of by outsiders” (1 Tim 3:7), that is, unbelievers. With this qualification in mind, it seems wise to include one’s marital circumstances in consideration of whether or not such a one could be slandered and disgraced by unbelievers, though their divorce and marriage were permissible by biblical standards. Given the fact that a deacon’s requirements are so similar to that of a pastor, though being “well thought of by outsiders” is not explicitly repeated as a requirement for deacons in 1 Tim 3:8–13, it seems safe to assume that deacons should be “men of good repute” (Acts 6:3), both in and outside the church.

Second, caution protects the church and candidate from controversy.

If a church does allow for an officer to be divorced and remarried, it would seem necessary (in keeping with congregational authority) that the whole church should know the circumstances of the potential officer’s divorce and remarriage in order to knowledgeably affirm that such a divorce and remarriage were biblically permissible, all in order to be able to knowledgeably vote that such a one should indeed be an officer of the church. Bringing the details of a divorce before the church can be unsettling for its members, especially if they are not unanimous in their beliefs on divorce and remarriage, let alone the situation at hand. Caution here, it seems, is to side with wisdom. Not only does this caution protect the church from potential controversy, but it also protects the potential candidate or his wife from having a significant disappointment explained to the church in detail.

In closing, while some may believe that such a standard unnecessarily excludes one from being an officer of the church, an answer to this tension would be that, if such a one truly desires to serve as much as possible in his church, he will find ample opportunity to do so whether or not he can be a pastor or a deacon.

As I pointed out above, my application of Scripture above is simply one way to answer the question of whether or not a pastor, deacon, or their wives can be divorced. I obviously prefer the conservative end of the spectrum for how to answer this question, but I respect the position of those who knowledgeably disagree.

Receiving Those Who Are for Us: the Thoughts of a Pastor of an Independent Church

2015.09.02 - hand-shake-1241578Our church has been recently going through the end of Mark 9. Jesus teaches us to receive His people, whatever their social standing may be (Mark 9:37). We are not stop others from serving Him even though their context is different from our own (9:39–41), and we greatly sin if we reject other believers and thereby cause them to sin, that is, to discourage them from following Him (Mark 9:42; cf. 9:38–41).

A question I came to ask myself is this: does my church provoke believers to sin every time we choose not to join them in some type of ministry endeavor? In giving in answer, it was helpful for me to remember that noninvolvement with other Christians is not the same thing as discrediting them as illegitimate, and the choice for noninvolvement may be based on many factors.

In seeking whether or not we should involve our church with another church, a primary question is this: what does the other church believe about the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith? For example, is Jesus God? Is Scripture inerrant? Did Jesus die for our sins? If a church cannot properly articulate the essentials of the faith, then such a church may be no church at all or a church with aberrant beliefs at best.

A second question is this: what does the other church believe about certain distinctives of the faith that my church is convinced to be true? For me, example questions would be, are they Baptists? Dispensational? Complementarian? Hold to the regulative principle in worship? Distinctives obviously vary from one church to the next.

Answering these questions helps one to find out to what degree a church is truly for another church or not. Agreement on cardinal doctrines is essential. As to doctrinal distinctives, less and less agreement diminishes the possibility of cooperating in some way, and it is important for each church to realize that disagreement does not necessarily mean the other church is intentionally disobedient to the Word of God. We are forced to choose either to limit our beliefs for the sake of cooperation or to limit our cooperation for the sake of greater specificity in our beliefs. It is up to each church to decide which of those options they want to live out.

Practically, what would one do with other churches? As for conventions, denominations, and associations, a church must responsibly mind such organizations if they are to participate therein, meaning energy and effort must be expended outside of the local church, and nobly so, because it means participating in the larger body of Christ. A church may have to choose, though, if the benefits of the organization outweigh the potential frustrations that will come. As to other means of participation, churches may hold periodic events together if they are close enough to do so. Churches could informally or formally plant churches together or support other ministries by pooling funds and resources. By doing so, they do more together than one church alone.

Apostles: A Wrap-up

512px-Apostles_MNMA_Cl23530My graduation and a number of church matters busied me away from a series on apostles, and this post will be a final few thoughts on the matter for now. The NT gives requirements for what it is to be an apostle (see here and here), and Paul’s description of himself helps to explain his apostleship as well. It is debated whether or not Barnabas is an apostle, but I sided with the evidence that he is not.

In addition to apostles who are the apostles, there are also those who are termed apostles merely in the sense that they are messengers. Paul sent Epaphroditus as a “messenger” (apostolos) back to the Philippians (Phil 2:25). He did the same with Titus and the unnamed brother who were “messengers of the churches” (2 Cor 8:23). Jesus spoke of messengers in general when stating, “nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:16).

There are also those who are apostles with Paul in the sense that they are sent for the purpose of gospel ministry. Men such as Timothy and Silvanus could be included in this category (1 Thess 2:6; cf. 1:1).

We should also add that Jesus is uniquely “the apostle” in Hebrews 3:1. He was sent like none other to provide redemption for the children of God (cf. Heb 2:10–16).

Having hardly scratched the surface for this topic, hopefully I’ve laid out the broader principles that establish the multiple senses of the term apostolos as it is used in the NT:

  1. The apostles are the twelve and Paul, one untimely born.
  2. Apostles are also those sent by the churches for gospel ministry (e.g., Timothy and Silvanus – 1 Thess 2:6; cf. 1:1).
  3. Apostles are messengers who have a specific task (e.g., Epaphroditus – Phil 2:25).
  4. The apostle Jesus was sent to provide redemption for God’s children (Heb 3:1).

This article was originally posted here, another blog to which I regularly contribute.

Congregational Authority (Part 3)

2014.06.30 raised handsI’ve given two points in support of congregational authority thus far in this mini-series.

First, the congregation is involved in the selection and election of deacons and elders.

Second, the congregation chooses individuals for specific tasks, sends them on their way, and holds them accountable for their ministries

This third and final point is somewhat simple: congregations authorized the inclusion and exclusion of members into and out of their assemblies. 

Four passages support this point:

  • After one-on-one and group confrontations (Matt 18:15–16), the church hears the case of a persistent sinner and chooses to disfellowship: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt 18:17; cf. 1 Tim 5:19–20).
  • The assembly as a whole functions to disfellowship individual members as necessary. “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord . . . deliver this man to Satan . . .” (1 Cor 5:4–5).
  • The assembly is responsible to judge its members according to holiness as defined by God’s Word. “Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” (1 Cor 5:12).
  • Paul called upon the church to reaffirm their love for a repentant brother that “the majority” had chosen to punish: “this punishment by the majority is enough” (2 Cor 2:6–8).

Was Barnabas an Apostle?

San Barnaba by Anonimo Lombardo (an anonymous Lombard) - 17th CenturyWas Barnabas an apostle? This question is important because it is related to the larger question of whether or not apostles exist today. If the NT gave a pattern of apostles being added to the original Twelve (and Paul), could there be apostles today?

I explained in previous posts that the Twelve and Paul had a unique apostleship that singled them out from others that were called apostles in Scripture. In this post (and more to come), I will examine who else was called an apostle in the NT and the meaning of the term apostle as it applied to these individuals.

In Acts 14:4, Luke refers to “the apostles” who, in context, are Paul and Barnabas (cf. Acts 13:50). Ten verses later, Luke is more explicit and refers to “the apostles Barnabas and Paul” (Acts 14:14). Barnabas was clearly an apostle. But in what sense? Was he an apostle like the Twelve? Was he an apostle to the Gentiles in the same sense as Paul? Could the term apostle mean something else in this context?

Part of the difficulty in explaining Barnabas as an apostle lies in the fact that Paul, too, is called an apostle in Acts 14:4, 14If Paul was an apostle in much the same way as the original Twelve, to call Barnabas an apostle alongside Paul seems to color Barnabas with the same apostolic hue as Paul. But this reasoning does not necessarily follow.

Luke typically describes Barnabas as an individual who was distinct from the twelve apostles (Acts 4:36; 9:27; 15:2, 22). These verses and others demonstrate that Luke consistently used the term apostle to refer to the Twelve.1 Luke’s use of the term apostle with reference to others such as Barnabas and Paul is exceptional.2 This is not to say that Paul was not an apostle, but it is to say that whether Paul, Barnabas, or anyone else, Luke did not typically call these men apostles. More likely, Luke used a more generic use of the term apostle, albeit with reference to two notable individuals. One scholar refers to Acts 14:4, 14 and explains this use of apostle as follows: “In this broad usage, then, an apostle was a first-century evangelist who bore witness to the resurrection of Christ, an itinerant missionary sent by Him to make disciples of all nations.”3 Barnabas was an apostle in the sense that he was sent to proclaim the gospel with Paul (cf. Acts 13:1–3).4

In short, Luke described Barnabas as someone distinct from the Twelve. He was sent with Paul to proclaim the gospel, and in this sense, he was an apostle. He cannot be used an example of someone who received an apostleship that was the same as the Twelve or Paul and thus be used as precedent for anyone to claim a similar apostleship today.

This article was originally posted here, another blog to which I regularly contribute.

  1. F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 271; John B. Polhill, Acts (NAC 26; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995), 312. []
  2. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 276.Cf. A. F. Falls, “Apostle,” NBD, 123. []
  3. William C. Robinson, “Apostle,” ISBE 1:193. Cf. David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles (PNTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 408. []
  4. To get even more technical, Luke’s order of names in Acts 14:14 (Barnabas and Paul vs. Paul and Barnabas) could suggest the exceptional nature of this use of apostle as well. Unless referring to Paul by his Jewish surname Saul, Luke usually referred to Paul first and Barnabas second (Acts 13:43, 46, 50; 15:2, 22, 35; cf. 15:12, 25). If Luke was copying an irregular order of these two names from some external source, it could be that he also copied the term apostle along the way, explaining why Luke would have used the term with reference to someone other than the Twelve. (See Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 276.) Another suggestion for the unusual order of names is that this order corresponds to the order of the gods Zeus and Hermes mentioned in Acts 14:12. (See Andrew F. Falls, “Apostle, NBD, 123.) []

The Apostleship of the Apostle Paul: One Untimely Born

conversion-of-saulOver the last couple of weeks, I examined Acts 1:21–26 for the requirements laid out by the early church for one be an apostle (part 1part 2). The three such requirements were as follows:

1. An apostle followed Jesus during His entire earthly ministry from His baptism by John to His ascension into heaven (Acts 1:21–22a).

2. An apostle saw Jesus after His resurrection (Acts 1:22b).

3. An apostle was appointed by the Lord Jesus Himself (Acts 1:24–25).

When we look at these requirements, we wonder – how was Paul able to claim that he, too, was an apostle?  He met only the last two of these three requirements. He saw Jesus after the resurrection (Acts 9:1–9; 1 Cor 15:8), and Jesus appointed him to be apostle (Acts 26:16–18; cf. 9:15–16). However, Paul was an unbeliever who persecuted the early church (Acts 8:1–3; 9:1–2) and could obviously not have been one who followed Christ during His earthly ministry (cf. Acts 1:21–22a). Was the first requirement really not all that necessary? Could this apostolic appointment of Paul set a precedent to open the door for others to later say that they, too, had somehow seen Jesus and been appointed to be apostles as well?

The answer is no because Paul describes himself in terms that imply he was an exception to the rule. Twice in 1 Corinthians he describes his apostleship in correlation to when Jesus first appeared to him (1 Cor 9:1; 15:8–9). In the second of these descriptions, he notes that Jesus appeared to him “as to one untimely born” (1 Cor 15:8), a phrase that describes one of the primary ways in which Paul’s apostleship was distinct from the Twelve. Apart from other ways this phrase could be taken, it seems Paul used the picture of a premature birth to imply that his apostleship was something that came about rather abruptly as opposed to something that had been developed over a longer period of time.1 Teasing out the picture further, one could say that the Twelve underwent the full development of apostolic nurture in being discipled by Christ during His earthly ministry.2 In contrast, Paul’s apostleship came about rather suddenly and apart from such a process.

Putting this all together, the Twelve were the Twelve in part because they  were with Christ from His baptism by John to His ascension into heaven (Acts 1:21–22a). Christ chose Paul to be an apostle apart from such a process, but even Paul knew this type of apostleship was out of the ordinary (1 Cor 15:8). Moreover, if Paul’s apostleship was unexpected for such a reason, it seems all the more unlikely that we would see apostles today.

This article was originally posted here, another blog to which I regularly contribute.

  1. Cf. David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians (BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 690–91, and Anthony C. Thistleton, 1 Corinthians (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 1208–09. []
  2. See the previous posts about Acts 1:21–26 for an explanation as to how Matthias was able to be an apostle as well. []

Congregational Authority (part 1)

2014.06.30 raised handsThere are several examples from Scripture that demonstrate the fact that congregations exercise authority over certain matters. For my own sake, I have divided a number of these examples into three categories. Here is the first of those categories with the passages that give it support.1

(1) The congregation chooses individuals for specific tasks, sends them on their way, and holds them accountable for their ministries.

Examples:

  • Peter was held accountable to the church in Jerusalem for his ministry of evangelism: “When Peter went up to Jerusalem. . . . Peter began and explained it to them in order . . .” (Acts 11:2, 18).
  • Barnabas was sent by Jerusalem to investigate the Gentile conversions in Antioch: “the church in Jerusalem . . . they sent Barnabas to Antioch” (Acts 11:22).
  • Barnabas and Saul were sent by the church in Antioch on a missionary journey: “they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:3). Admittedly, it is unclear to whom “they” is referring in Acts 13:3. However, the next point seems to indicate the church’s involvement.
  • When Barnabas and Paul returned to Antioch, they reported of their missionary endeavors to the church: “And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them” (Acts 14:27).
  • Paul and Barnabas were sent by the church in Antioch to clear up a doctrinal matter with the church in Jerusalem: “So, being sent on their way by the church” (Acts 15:3; cf. 15:1–2).
  • As led by the apostles and elders, the church in Jerusalem sent a letter to Antioch clarifying their position on a doctrinal matter in question: “Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas” (Acts 15:22).
  • This final example is helpful as well, though a difference from the previous examples would be that this one involves multiple churches agreeing over sending one person for a given task. The “famous brother” was sent with Paul to hold him and others accountable for transporting funds to Jerusalem to help during the time of famine: “he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us. . . . We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us” (2 Cor 8:19–20; cf. 8:18–21).

 

  1. For a longer discussion of the examples below, see Kevin Bauder, Baptist Distinctives and New Testament Church Order (Schaumburg, IL: Regular Baptist Press, 2012), 92–99. []

Some Thoughts on From Embers to a Flame

Some time ago, I posted an article summarizing Harry Reeder’s biblical basis for church revitalization. This is a follow-up article I wrote for my church bulletin.

Our church has been studying a number of topics in God’s Word through the help of From Embers to a Flame (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2008), a book by Harry Reeder, a pastor who is a gifted Christian leader. While most of what this book says is helpful, there are a couple of areas that we need to give some critical attention.

First, in my personal opinion, there are three reasons as to why vision is not the best word for a church to use when communicating its plans and goals for the future. One reason is that the Bible already uses the word vision to refer to something else, an event whereby God uses visual elements (sometimes with audible elements as well) to speak to an individual.

Related to this, a second reason is that there are over 500,000,000 people in this world who are somehow involved in the charismatic movement and believe that God speaks through visions today, something that we believe was limited to the time of the apostles. We do not want people thinking God has supernaturally granted our church a vision for the future.

A third reason is that the church-marketing movement typically finds its concept of vision in the business world and attempts to import as much into the church and sanctify it with Scripture after the fact. Since so many churches follow this practice today, I would prefer not to use this term in order to avoid miscommunication as to how we function as a church.

Our constitution states on page 19, “The Senior Pastor shall lead the congregation, set the direction for the ministry . . .” A pastor leads, and a pastor may direct the congregation how to apply God’s Word in a given area, but the key in doing so is to simply communicate plans for the future in a way that is reasonable and responsible. We can easily do this without the word vision.

A second area of concern in this book is that Reeder occasionally illustrates leadership with stories of heroes from the past who led in the secular arena. While their leadership is admirable, Christian leaders who led God’s people would provide better examples of Scriptural principles. Scripture itself gives plenty of examples for its truths (cf. 1 Cor 10:6, 11), and Reeder himself encourages churches to look at their personal history and the history of the church at large to remember their past.

From Embers to a Flame is a helpful book, and Harry Reeder is certainly a gifted leader, speaker, and writer. At the same time, as with any book, one must read it critically and decide what the author advocates for himself and others may not always be the best course for us to take.

Pastor Huffstutler regularly writes a short article each week for the church’s Sunday bulletin. For more articles by Pastor Huffstutler, go to his blog, ProclaimChrist.org.