The enterprise of governing

“There is no way of purging from human beings an understanding of right and wrong, of purging from common life a discourse about right and wrong.”

“Once we think we are in the presence of real wrongs, we think (for example) that it’s wrong for people to torture their infants, our next response is not, ‘Ah, therefore, let’s give them tax incentives to induce them to stop.’ No, we respond with a law that forbids them.”

“Once you understand that this is the nature of the enterprise of ruling and governing, it becomes a matter of whether you will address the questions of right and wrong or whether you simply try to divert the questions and talk about something else” (Hadley Arkes).

Yet whenever people talk about morality and government, you hear someone asking, “What about the separation of Church and State?” “After all, that’s what the First Amendment is all about, isn’t it?” 

“The First Amendment says: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,’ Notice that the words ‘separation,’ ‘church,’ and ‘state’ do not appear in it (Geisler and Turek, Legislating Morality).

This myth that the First Amendment separates church and state has grown to such ridiculous proportions that it must be debunked.

The obvious question:

“If the first amendment doesn’t mean the separation of church and state, then what does it mean?” “Clearly, the amendment prohibits congress from establishing a national morality. The real question is, does the amendment require absolute separation between government and religion to the point that everything is public must be sanitized of any reference to God? That’s what the courts have led most people to believe over the past fifty years, but history doesn’t support this now popular view. The founders wanted to guarantee freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. If the first amendment guaranteed freedom from religion, it would also require freedom from speech, from assembly, and from the press.” (Geisler and Turek)

Our first President said,

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports… Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles.” 

Steve Cornell

When Pastors Study Scripture

When I visit other Churches or listen to sermons, I can tell if a speaker has done the hard work of biblical exegesis.
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This is especially true if he’s doing a topical message because topical studies require exegesis of multiple texts. They also require careful theological consideration in connecting Biblical truth in the narrative of redemptive history.
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I find it invigorating when I hear a sermon based on a combination of thorough biblical exegesis, theological maturity and perceptive contemporary application. But I am sadly reticent to believe that messages of this kind are easily found in our Churches.

One reason for this is a failure among pastors to faithfully do the hard work of studying Scripture. The large majority of pastors lose their ability to work in original languages by their fourth or fifth year of ministry (if not, earlier).

I understand how the demands of ministry can be overwhelming. I also know the pressures faced when trying to fill the training gaps for unexpected issues in pastoral work. But we must resist the temptation to do ministry at the expense of a disciplined habit of careful biblical exegesis.

Easier said than done? Yes! That’s why I want to share a helpful solution.

But allow me first to share a little of my journeyIn 30 years of pastoral work, I’ve been a youth pastor, Church planter, pastor of a Church from 10 people to 600 (with multiple staff). During most of that time, I’ve written monthly columns for several newspapers, produced daily radio programs; invested many hours in pastoral counseling, gave oversight to many building projects and raised four children to adulthood (with the indispensable co-laboring of a faithful wife). I fully understand the demands of ministry that pull us in many directions and make it hard to maintain focused study time. 

Questions: How can a pastor maintain a high level of skill in biblical exegesis under such demands? How can a pastor stay up on biblical languages?

The answer for me has been in the tools that I’ve used. I was reminded of this last week when I used a book by a commentator that has been one of the faithful helpers to me for many years. The commentator is Gordon Fee. The book is God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul. Dr. Fee stands in a tradition of teachers and authors who do the hard work behind the scenes that I (as a pastor) do not have time to do. I’ve worn out his commentaries on I Corinthians and Philippians. Currently I am reading his work titled, Pauline Christology.

Another helpful factor for me was the books I had to read in training for ministry.

Many years ago, I discovered D. A. Carson’s New Testament Commentary Survey. This was extremely valuable for commentary selection.

Another author who profoundly shaped my application of Scripture was John R. W. Stott. (See: Here). On an academic and cultural level, the work of Ken Myers in Mars Hill Audio has been a primary resource for my book selections.

Recommendation:

My simple recommendation is for pastors to discipline themselves to read good exegetical commentaries. It is the best way I know to stay current in original languages and careful biblical exegesis. Only read devotional works or sermon collections after reading the in-depth exegetical commentaries.

When I do a sermon series through a book of the Bible, I choose about five or six of the best commentaries on the book and patiently read each one (including all footnotes). This has kept me in the biblical languages and has shaped the way I read and study Scripture.

As an example, earlier in my ministry, I spent three years teaching the Sermon on the Mount. My resources at the time included that following:

  1. D. A. CarsonMatthew (Expositors Bible Commentary) and  Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount
  2. John R. W. StottThe Message of the Sermon on the Mount
  3. Robert Guelich: The Sermon on the Mount
  4. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
  5. Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Stanley N. Gundry

Any current study of the book of Matthew, should include commentaries by Craig S. Keener,  R. T. France (NICNT)Donald Hagner (WBC), and John Nolland (NIGTC).

I realize that (for some pastors) reading thorough exegetical commentaries might prove to be challenging but the rewards are worth the effort. The effort necessary for me was nothing short of hard work and discipline. But I discovered that the more you disciplined yourself to read at this level, the easier it became. More importantly, this practice will positively affect the way you read and teach the Bible. It will strengthen your theology and give you wisdom for life and ministry.

I close with a reminder to all who teach the Scriptures:

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15).

Start with Gordon Fee’s commentary on Philippians (read the footnotes!) Or, pick up D. A. Carson’s Showing the Spirit on I Corinthians 12-14 or his commentary on The Gospel According to John or his study of the prayers of the apostle Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation.

Steve Cornell

Expository Preaching

This post is a response to a question someone asked me this week about expository preaching. He also noted that I had nothing specific about it on my blog.

I do expository preaching every time I teach from Scripture because exposition is what is happening. One of the long honored masters of expository preaching defined it well.

Dr. Stephen Olford explained that, “expository preaching is the Spirit-empowered explanation and proclamation of the text of God’s Word, with due regard to the historical, contextual, grammatical and doctrinal significance of the given passage, with the specific object of invoking a Christ-transforming response.”

Where this is happening (and there are fewer places than most realize), God’s people are blessed. A true test of whether this is actually happening is to look at how well the Church follows the Scripture in its leadership structure and fellowship. There’s no sense going through the motions of preaching if the Church doesn’t actually follow the Scripture on important matters like leadership and government. 

Some feel that the only way one is expositional as a preacher is if he teaches through books of the Bible verse by verse. But there is nothing mandating only one approach to preaching. I’ve given a number of book studies and will likely do more in the near future. I’ve also presented many theological studies. All the well-known expositors have done a mixture of biblical and theological studies as well as individual book studies.

Many times the person who says he prefers expository preaching simply means a book study vs. a theological study. This way of thinking however does not understand the meaning of exposition. And expository topical studies are actually harder when done well. They require much broader exegetical knowledge than individual book studies.

The important thing for all who teach Scripture is a commitment to do the hard exegetical work no matter what you’re teaching. And we should always be cautious about Churches or leaders who posture as superior for their approach to preaching. I’ve heard book studies and topical sermons that lacked careful exegetical work. To use Olford’s definition, they lacked “due regard to the historical, contextual, grammatical and doctrinal significance of the given passage/s.”

Steve Cornell

See also: 10 Attributes of good preaching

A needed word on Christian counseling

 

In a conversation with a medical doctor about anxiety and depression, he expressed frustration to me over the number of times he will diagnose significant levels of anxiety or depression only to be told that a patient’s pastor or friend warned against medicine and suggested a spiritual solution.

“This kind of five Bible verses and you’ll be better approach,” he said, “is far more common than many realize.”

Sadly, the doctor is right. Yet he acknowledged the common and misguided tendency among doctors to reduce these challenges to medicinal solutions. Over-prescription is a serious problem, but Christians should not react by choosing another extreme. Those who take the “five Bible verses and you’ll be better” approach risk discrediting the very Scriptures they offer. They also fail to leverage a great advantage available to Christian counselors.

We need more teaching on this subject because far too many Christians are quick to sound like an authority on a subject simply because they know a Bible verse or two about it. This approach is causing Christians to lose credibility in an area where they actually have far more to offer.



I told the doctor that when I counsel people I start with an assumption that they have a full line of moral credit. I treat them as individuals who can accept and pay for their debts. Out of respect for their dignity as beings made in the image of God, I view them as capable, responsible and accountable.



Yet I remain aware that life is not always easily reduced to raw choosing. We need to guard against a tendency within the Church to make all of life a matter of choice — of obedience or disobedience. We should counsel others with compassionate consideration toward the complexities that so often shape life.

This means (among other things) that we must take seriously the multidimensional nature of life in a fallen world. Christians must resist the tendency to approach people one-dimensionally — as if they were only spiritual beings in need of spiritual solutions. God created us as more than spiritual beings. Scripture itself reveals four dimensions of human life. We are…

  1. Physical beings with bodily needs.
  2. Social beings with relationship needs.
  3. Psychological beings with cognitive and emotional needs.
  4. Spiritual beings with a need for God.

Christian counselors have a unique advantage of being able to approach people holistically based on these dimensions. I say advantage because many other disciplines will not consider the spiritual dimension of life.

If I consider it inadequate when counselors or doctors leave out the spiritual dimension, why would I do the same with other dimensions? It is disrespectful to the truths revealed in Scripture to approach people one-dimensionally.

Scripture also reveals (what is empirically verifiable) that humans are fallen or sinful beings and that each dimension has been corrupted by our fallenness. This is why Christian counselors cannot accept idealized views of human potential apart from God’s grace and power. But it is also why the human body fails.

We should be grateful for the medical discoveries that help us with our physical needs. The most complicated human organ is the brain and it too can benefit from medicines that have been discovered.

A thorough Biblical understanding of humanity ought to protect us from simplistic reductions of life’s challenges. God has made us physical, social, psychological and spiritual beings and each dimension should be considered when counseling others.

We also must understand the dimensions of growth in spiritual maturity. While approaching people holistically, our ultimate aim should be to assist them in a life-process of bringing their lives into conformity to the will of their Creator. This involves our intellect (as we use our minds to explore God’s truth), our will (as we increasingly yield to God’s authority), and our emotions (as we cultivate godly affections).

Christian counselors do not treat people as products of impersonal chance. Since we know that there is a personal Creator, we call people to more than horizontal perspectives about life in a temporal world. Scripture reveals this amazing truth about Jesus Christ that, “all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17). Our counseling must always point people to the Lord and sustainer of life.

The Church of Jesus Christ is called to show neighbor-love and true care for one another (Romans 12:10; 13:9-10; Galatians 6:1). Yet we must resist an all too common tendency to be overly zealous in offering quick and easy answers for the issues that trouble others. I realize that we’ve been told that the Bible speaks to every issue of life. And Scripture is a treasure of truth to guide us in a broken world.

Is it adequate, therefore, to share a verse or two of Scripture with a person who tells you about his struggle? This might be just what a person needs to hear — in some cases. Yet it is rarely all that is needed.

The approach that troubled the doctor is often guilty of careless listening that is more focused on answers than understanding a person’s problem. We need to practice patience and grow in mercy.

The virtues of gentleness and wisdom should be on full display among us when counseling others. Let us treat people respectfully and compassionately based on the four dimensions of life. This is a great advantage of Christian counseling.

Steve Cornell

* Please consider sharing this post with others.

Two essential movements in a Church

Centripetall-vs-CentrifugalTwo motions or forces of movement serve as helpful illustrations of the function of a healthy core group in any organization.

  • Centripetal movement/force draws something or someone toward a central point.
  • Centrifugal movement/force pushes something or someone away from the center.

These movements are helpful ways to understand and build the interior life of a local Church (or other organizations).

  • Centripetal force is an assimilating dynamic. It refers to the centering effects of the core commitments of a core group.
  • Centripetal force is a dis-similating dynamic. It refers to the purging effects of the core commitments of a core group.

Like the water draining from a tub, centripetal magnetic effect draws toward a central place by collective motion. In a Church, the core group provides this motion as it holds core beliefs and values and functions to draw others toward them.

For example, if a core commitment is to remain positive and solution focused, the core group will function to draw others toward this way of seeing things. But if a person determines to remain negative, the core group also creates a centrifugal force by purging out attitudes and perspectives that contradict the core commitments. 

If a core commitment is to avoid gossip, the centrifugal force of a core group will be felt by the person who gossips among them. The hope, of course, is that group dynamic can draw others toward godly attitudes, speech and actions. But protecting the health of a group will likely require both assimilating and dis-similating dynamics.

This same dynamic occurs in athletics. During a game a teammate who “gets his or her head out of the game” is typically surrounded by teammates who draw them back into focus. Those who are “head cases” will either not make the team or be purged from it. 

In a local Church, I put this under the plan outlined in Ephesians 4:11-16 where the leaders equip the people and the people become established in the truth in a way that produces collective stability and maturity. When opposing forces try to sway those who have been equipped, the core group protects the internal life of the Church in ways illustrated by centripetal and centrifugal movement.

The function of centripetal force is illustrated in Hebrews 3:12-13; 10:24-25.  The function of centrifugal force is illustrated in Romans 16:17-18.

Have you seen these two motions/dynamics in your Church, team, group or organization? 

Steve Cornell

Should we avoid political engagement?

 

Should Christians pull back from politics? Given the growing polarization and divisive tone of politics, I understand why Christians might want to distance themselves from the whole project. It seems that no matter how graciously we engage, we risk being misunderstood as taking sides with a “Radical Right” or a “Radical Left.”

It’s not surprising to hear the old fundamentalist line, “Just preach the gospel.” I feel for those who want to avoid what appears to be a sure way to create misunderstanding or to get people mad at you.

But is this fear itself wrongly motivated? Is backing out of political engagement a responsible option for obedient Christians? Is it possibly contradiction of our identity as salt to the earth and light to the world? 

This was the topic of a recent post by Russell Moore. I like the way he summarized evangelical engagement on pro-life concerns as a model for other areas of engagement.

“What I’m calling for in our approach to political engagement is what we’re already doing in one area: the pro-life movement. Evangelicals in the abortion debate have demonstrated convictional kindness in a holistic ethic of caring both for vulnerable unborn children and for the women who are damaged by abortion. The pro-life movement has engaged in a multi-pronged strategy that addresses, simultaneously, the need for laws to outlaw abortion, care for women in crisis pregnancies, adoption and foster care for children who need families, ministry to women (and men) who’ve been scarred by abortion, cultivating a culture that persuades others about why we ought to value human life, and the proclamation of the gospel to those whose consciences bear the guilt of abortion.”

“That’s the reason the pro-life movement continues to resonate, with growing numbers, among young Christians. It’s very clearly not a singularly ‘political’ issue, but an issue that demands political, ecclesial, and cultural reform and persuasion.”

Being maligned or falsely charged should not lead Christians to retreat but be viewed (in principle) as an opportunity in the vein of I Peter 3:14-17; 4:19 -

“… if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threat; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. ….So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.”

Moore does a good job outlining the nature of the calling for engagement, 

“We engage politically because we love our neighbors, we care about human flourishing. But we do so at multiple fronts. We engage on Capitol Hill (as I do), on issues ranging from stopping the abortion industry, to protecting religious liberty, to speaking out for human rights for the persecuted overseas. We cultivate churches that see the holistic nature of the kingdom of God and who shape consciences of people to live as citizens. But we always do that with a focus that we are not prosecuting attorneys but defense attorneys. We are seeking, ultimately, to point people to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

A false argument

Some leaders use a false argument disguised as a biblical case against political engagement. They ask, “Where do you see Jesus or the apostles getting involved in politics?”

Not only is this an argument from apparent silence, it overlooks the fact that those who lived during the periods of history represented in the Bible were not part of democratic forms of government. We are simply not living in the same political situation as Jesus or the apostles. This is part of what makes our function a little more complicated. We are part of a participatory system where we have opportunity to influence the formation of laws and policies for the common good. 

It’s careless and misleading to use this kind of argument from apparent silence to negate a calling to responsible citizenship.  

So as we pursue a common good with others and each one brings his or her beliefs, morals and values to the discussion, robust and respectful debate is often necessary. We must not shy from engagement or allow others to marginalize our voice.

Yet we should not approach engagement as an effort to win culture wars. Such language (and the demeanor that often accompanies it) is not fitting to responsible Christian participation in a representative form of democracy. But neither should we become passive when called to engage.

Let’s be as informed as possible and speak the truth with boldness while being considerate and kind toward opponents.

At the end of the day (or process), some of the laws might conflict with our beliefs, morals and values. If those laws try to force us to violate our beliefs, we will find far more explicit application from Scripture on how to respond.

Steve Cornell

Turning down God’s offer

Few people have been given as great an offer as was given to Moses. Why didn’t he accept God’s offer? The answer could change the way you live.

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God’s offer

“I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” (Exodus 32:9-10).

Do you think Moses was tempted to accept God’s offer? Were there any reasons why Moses might have wanted to step aside so that God’s anger could burn against the people? And think about the amazing offer to Moses – “I will make you into a great nation.”

An obstinate people

On a human level, it’s not too hard to imagine Moses accepting the offer. These people constantly gave Moses a hard time with their endless complaints and dramatic accusations. Here’s a survey of their complaints:

Exodus 14:10-12

“…the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the Lord, and they said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!’”

Exodus 15:23-25

“When they came to the oasis of Marah, the water was too bitter to drink. So they called the place Marah (which means “bitter”). Then the people complained and turned against Moses. “What are we going to drink?” they demanded.”

Exodus 16:2-3

the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron. “If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.”

Exodus 17:1-3

Eventually they camped at Rephidim, but there was no water there for the people to drink. So once more the people complained against Moses. “Give us water to drink!” they demanded. “Quiet!” Moses replied. “Why are you complaining against me? And why are you testing the Lord?” But tormented by thirst, they continued to argue with Moses. “Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Are you trying to kill us, our children, and our livestock with thirst?”

Standing between God and the people

Amazingly, Moses pleads with God on behalf of the people. “Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.” (32:12).

But Moses’ prayer wasn’t ultimately about the people or himself. His concern was about God. His prayer fit the model Jesus taught. It focused on honor for God’s name, establishing God’s kingdom and doing God’s will.

Moses could have made it about himself or the people but he lived for greater concerns. Moses wasn’t appealing to God because the people “really aren’t that bad.” Yes, Moses lovingly put the people before himself, so much so that later he offered to have himself removed from God’s book rather than the people (see: 32:30-33). But Moses’ main appeal was for God’s honor.

Here we have a great example of intercessory (and effective) prayer based on a passionate commitment to God and His glory! In a way that reminds us of the Middle Eastern practice of haggling at the market, Moses appealed to God based on three considerations.

1. God’s redemptive work for His people

“Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?” (32:11)

2. God’s reputation

“Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? (32:12)

3. God’s covenant promises

“Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” (32:13)

What was the outcome of this prayer?

“Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.” (32:14).

Four life lessons

1. Moses gives us great example of selfless leadership fueled by a deep commitment to God’s ultimate glory!

2. God has chosen to operate His world through secondary agents whose actions affect actual outcomes.

When God said to Moses, “leave me alone,” He revealed how He works through His servants. But we shouldn’t picture God as a reluctant deity who forgot about his redemption, reputation and promises. Instead, God ordained that His purposes be accomplished through our participation. God’s offer is a test for Moses. What kind of leader will he be? As God uses secondary means, In the process, we are tested; we learn and we are lead to attach our hearts to concerns greater than ourselves.

3. When our hearts become passionate for God’s name, kingdom and honor, everything changes.

It requires focused devotion to make life about something greater than ourselves or the burdensome people we might be called to lead. But when it becomes our focus, the mundane becomes richly meaningful in ways that reach into eternity. When we can say, “God you matter too much to me to make this about me (“I will make you into a great nation”) and although the people don’t deserve mercy (and frustrate the life out of me), the associations of your name and honor is far more important to me.

4. “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16). By contrast, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3).

I have so much to learn!

Steve Cornell

God’s primary work on earth

When God has a job to be done, He works through people. God has chosen to work out His plan through active secondary participants. 

But what is God’s primary work on earth today? And how does He use people to accomplish it?

The answer is found in the promise of Jesus Christ – “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).  

When the Lord Jesus went into heaven, He sent the promised Holy Spirit and through the Spirit He united believers into a body referred to as the body of Christ (Acts 1:4-5,8; John 14:15-17; I Corinthians 12:13).

In the absence  of Jesus physical presence, this assembly of believers in Christ is the visible testimony of Jesus Christ on earth today.

Although this body incorporates every believer from the day of Pentecost to the rapture of the Church, all the instructions for body life in the New Testament are intended for each local body of believers in every age.

Remember that, “God has placed the members each one of them in the body just as He desired” (I Corinthians 12:18) and “God has composed the body that there should be no division but that the members should have the same care for one another” (I Corinthians 12:24-25). Thus the apostle Paul says to the local church in the city of Corinth, “You are Christ’s body and individually members of it” (I Corinthians 12:27).

God’s purpose on earth today is to build a visible, united body of believers called the body of Christ, or the Church. The way we align ourselves with it is on the local level. Thus it is God’s design that every follower of Jesus Christ be a functioning part of a local body of believers. This is God’s will for you if you are a believer in Christ. 

God has called each believer into fellowship with His Son (I Corinthians 1:9). This is the joy of Christian living – that we have a personal and individual relationship with Jesus Christ who was dead but is alive forevermore, seated at the right hand of the Father, ever making intercession for us according to the will of God. This is a deeply personal joy of Christianity.

But, according to God’s design, what we enjoy on the individual level must become part of the public, corporate life of the church.

“No one Christian believer can fully enjoy the benefits of the grace of God in Christ, or fully express the new activities it makes possible, in isolation.” (A.M. Stibbs. T.N.T.C., I Peter, p. 156)

One of the most important and neglected truths of Scripture is the doctrine of the local church. The late Carl F. Henry warned the 1990 convention of the National Association of Evangelicals that: “Evangelicals continue to neglect the doctrine of the church and at high cost.”

Robert Patterson wrote an excellent article about this titled “In Search of the Visible Church.” 

Patterson observed how, “…commitment to the church appears to be at an all-time low among evangelicals…growing numbers of evangelicals are unwilling to commit themselves to any particular congregation. Operating as sovereign ecclesiastical consumers, they hop from church to church looking for the best spiritual “deal” in town.” I personally believe that there exists a desperate need today for a revival in the biblical understanding of the importance of the local church.”

“If the church is a nurturing mother for the souls of believers, as John Calvin proclaimed, those disconnected from her are nothing more than spiritual orphans. They are cut off from a vital source of spiritual nourishment and growth. They may think that spiritual fitness is an individual matter, but their failure to participate in the corporate life of God’s people can only stunt the kind of growth in grace that the apostle Paul envisioned in Ephesians 4” (R. Patterson, Christianity Today, Mar.11, 1991).

We must expose the tenuous division between commitment to the Lord and commitment to a local body of believers. I do not think that the Lord makes that distinction too sharply.

I will build my Church

  1. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said: “I will build my church”.
  2. In Luke 10:2, Jesus is called: “The Lord of the harvest who sends forth workers in His harvest.”
  3. The church is “the body of Christ.”
  4. Ephesians 5:25 says, “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”
  5. Ephesians 5:29 says, “Christ nourishes and cherishes the church.”
  6. In Acts 9:4, Saul was persecuting believers and Jesus stopped him and asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
  7. In Matthew 25 – during judgment the followers of Christ are shocked because Jesus identified a whole list of things that they did to him personally. Jesus cleared their lack of understanding by saying in verse 40, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”
  8. The author of Hebrews reminds the readers that, “God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints” (Hebrews 6:10). You show love to His name by serving His children.
  9. In I Corinthians 3:6, the apostle refers to human activity in building local churches, “I planted, Apollos watered but God was causing the growth.”
  10. In Acts 2:47 we learn that, “The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”

Ultimately anyone serving in any capacity in the church should view himself or herself as a direct servant of Jesus Christ (see: Colossians 3:23-24).

Patterson listed five action items to help the church regain this lost focus. Each of them is worthy of discussion but I’ll only give the first one:

“Evangelicals need to affirm aggressively the necessary connection between faith in Christ and commitment to his church. So-called solitary or independent Christians need to be incorporated into the life and discipline of some congregation. Those who are already church members need to remain committed to their church, taking seriously their accountability to the congregation and resisting the temptation to ‘jump ship’ when problems develop. At the same time, church leaders need to take more seriously their responsibility to discipline and nurture parishioners under their care.” (C.T. 3-11-1991, p.38)

If you want to stand in the gap in these days we live in and you want to align yourself with God’s plan, you need to be involved in a local body of believers. D.A. Carson recognized one of the reasons for a lack of emphasis being , “…a  theological suspicion that those who devote too much attention to the church are in danger of diverting attention from Christ himself” (Evangelical Affirmations).

Hopefully you understand from the above examples that the Lord Jesus does not recognize this distinction as sharply as some think. 

Robert Patterson’s concluded, “If evangelicals still value their heritage, they can lament the obscurity into which the church visible has sunk, a tragedy to which they have contributed in both word and deed. Furthermore, they can commit themselves toward a rediscovery of the church in our time, not just out of faithfulness to a tradition, but in devotion to their Lord who promised, ‘I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’”

Steve Cornell

The President’s Speech

The President’s speech today was an unbelievable display of partisan posturing based on significant misrepresentations of why the government shut down.

It’s frankly a little scary to think that our leaders so boldly take us for fools.

What the President did was not an example of good leadership but of brazen and unmitigated personal and party promotion. And the manipulative use of health care for such bitter partisanship is despicable. I realize this happens all the time in politics, but this President has taken it to new levels. Please do not allow the smooth talk to deceive you.

Rather than delay the individual mandate, Obama and the Democrats chose to shut down government. Now millions will face penalties due to Obamacare. The so-called Affordable Care Act has been the source of widespread reduction to the work week from 40 hours to part time hours. ObamaCare has also been the most partisan legislation passed in this century.

I want honest efforts from our leaders to work together. The President and Democrats have resolutely and arrogantly refused to work in any way with the other side that would require the slightest concession.

The President publicly gives the impression that the only reason he won’t cooperate is because he must protect the poor people who don’t have health care from the angry Republicans who want to deny them care. What a deceptive distortion! Does he really believe that Americans are dumb enough to fall for such distortions? 

And today by slight of speech, the President actually blamed all the “crises” on a “small segment of Republicans.” He threw that in to move the heat off of himself for the crises that occurred under his watch. The level of deception is unbelievable.

An unbiased look at the President’s speech today will reveal that it was filled with calculated distortions of the facts for political advantage. I hope most Americans will refuse to be swayed by the smooth talk and lies. President Obama’s message has consistently been “do it my way or you’ll be hating on Americans and I will take every opportunity to make them see it this way.” But this “My way or the highway” attitude must stop. 

Where is the leadership we so badly need?

Steve Cornell

Intentional Church growth


“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1).

Many would tell you that, based on their experiences, the Psalm would say,

“Behold how ‘difficult‘ and ‘challenging‘ it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.”

Perhaps unity is such a “good and pleasant” experience because it’s so rare and exceptional.

We at least know that unity is neither easily attained or easily maintained. This is why the early Church was told to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

Unity requires hard work (make every effort), vigilance (to keep or protect), and walking by the Spirit (the unity of the Spirit). It must be an intentional commitment and value of a local Church. Leaders have a special calling to watch over and protect the unity of the local Church.

Our story

I know a little about this after 30 years of pastoral ministry. While serving as a youth pastor in the greater Philadelphia area, 29 years ago this fall, we received a call that led to our ministry in Millersville, Pennsylvania. Looking back, I can tell you that planting and growing a healthy Church requires intentional commitment to core values and practices.

For those unaware of our journey, we’ve been privileged to oversee Church growth from 10 original people to more than 550 people. During those years, we’ve also invested in about a thousand University students who called our Church home during their time in school. We’ve grown from one staff person to six full-time and many part-time staff. We’ve gone from one little old building to nine buildings on two sites with over 16 acres (while remaining debt-free).

More importantly, many lives have been transformed during these years. And God has spread the ministry of our Church far beyond the home borders through missionaries sent from our number, extensive conference ministry, daily radio, columns in newspapers, this blog, etc… We are now connecting with pastors who are looking for help and encouragement on a weekly basis.

An intentional focus

Many years ago, we focused intentionally on Church growth based on a deep commitment to the following statement:

“It is God’s will for each believer to be a faithful, serving, and accountable part of a visible body of believers under the pastoral oversight of elders – sharing and experiencing meaningful relationship with one another.”

We summarized this understanding in the fourth point of our Church mission statement:

4. Fellowship of believers in an age of individualism

“It is God’s design for every Christian to be an active and accountable part of a local assembly of believers, willingly serving others. This results in the mutual encouragement and support of all the believers in their walk with Jesus Christ. In contrast, our society promotes individualism; the attitude which seeks to please self, elevates personal fulfillment, and avoids costly involvement with others. At MBC, we challenge believers to fulfill God’s design by meaningfully and sacrificially relating to others in the church.”

Some of the primary Scriptures for this statement include:

The picture of life together for those who follow Christ is not one of superficial or casual engagement. A close look at the “one anthers” of the NT depicts life-together in mutual love, honor, unity, care, service and accountability.

  • Accept one another (Rom 15:7)
  • Carry each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2)
  • Have equal concern for each other (1 Cor. 12:25)
  • Watch out for one another (Heb. 3:12-13)
  • Encourage one another (Heb. 3:13; 10:25)
  • Live in harmony with one another (1 Pet. 3:8)
  • Confess your sins to each other (Jas. 5:16)
  • Be devoted to one another (Rom. 12:10)
  • Edify one another (Rom. 14:19; 1 Thess. 5:11)
  • Consider others better than yourselves (Phil. 2:3)
  • Bear with one another (Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:13)
  • Forgive each other (Eph. 4:32)
  • Live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:16; 15:5)
  • Love one another (John 13:34-35; 17; Rom. 13:8)
  • Be members of one body (Rom. 12:5; Eph. 4:25)
  • Be at peace with each other (Eph. 4:3)
  • Pray for each other (Jas. 5:16)
  • Serve one another (Gal. 5:13; 1 Pet. 4:10)
  • Honor one another (Rom. 12:10)
  • Offer hospitality to one another (1 Pet. 4:9)

One sentence summary of our mission:

We seek to honor God by Winning, Building, Equipping, and Mobilizing people to advance Christ’s kingdom and exalt His name.

Steve Cornell