Downtown Cornerstone Blog
Oct 23

The Local Church as a City on a Hill Amidst Conflict

The Nature of the Local Church | by Pastor Adam Sinnett

The Local Church as a City on a Hill Amidst Conflict

Note: This post is the third in a series (1, 2) on the nature of the local church. The intent of this series is loving clarity, amidst cultural confusion. I write with gospel-forged hope, deep love for our church, co-mingled with genuine pastoral concern. This series is intended to give us a healthy set of shared understandings about the nature of the local church by which we carry out the many important conversations of this tumultuous season. We’re in this together.

Downtown Cornerstone,

As you know, 2020 is a year of conflict—partisan conflict, social conflict, racial/ethnic conflict, pandemic conflict, face mask conflict, and more. Not only do we see this on the news, but in our everyday relationships in ways big and small. While this might surprise us or cause concern, it shouldn’t. These realities are as old as the Church itself.

The New Testament shows us that Jesus’ local church is not immune to conflict. So, the question isn’t whether we will encounter relational conflict, in fact it would be odd if we didn’t, but how we will faithfully navigate it without being divided by it. How do we genuinely love amidst our genuine differences? How do we show the world the kind of relationships that the gospel forges between vastly different people without being divided by those differences?

Jesus calls us to be a people that show the world we belong to him by how we go about our shared lives together—not only when we agree but also when we disagree. We are a community of God’s redeemed people, a city set on a hill, who are to place love for one another over perfect alignment with one another.

So, how do we faithfully navigate this conflict-ridden cultural moment without being divided by it? That’s what this post is about. For us to love one another we need to work at defining our terms, assuming the best, listening well, asking for clarification, suspending judgment, and promoting genuine conversation amidst a cultural moment that militates against each of those.

Jesus’ Church Is Not Immune to Conflict

Jesus’ local church is not immune to conflict. Even a cursory reading of the New Testament reveals that the local church experienced conflict from the start. This is not new, but ancient. Recognizing this helps create realistic expectations so that (1) we’re not surprised when conflict arises and (2) we’re prepared to charitably pursue understanding with those we disagree with.

Here are some examples of issues that created conflict and division within the early church. This is a long list, but it is worth processing. It is striking how contemporary this reads:

Immaturity (1 Cor. 3:1; 14:20)
Divisive loyalty to different leaders (1 Cor. 3:4-5)
Ethnic favoritism (Acts 6:1-2)
Pride (1 Cor. 4:8)
Sexual immorality (1 Cor. 5:1-13; Rev. 2:20-21)
Lawsuits (1 Cor. 6:1-11)
Differences in conscience (1 Cor. 8-9)
Idolatry (1 Cor. 10:7)
Differences in cultural practices (1 Cor. 11:2-16)
Selfishness (1 Cor. 11:21)
Mishandling of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-34)
Overemphasis on spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12-14)
Underemphasis on mutual love (1 Cor. 13)
Overemphasis on things other than Jesus (2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Cor. 15:3)
Disorderly worship (1 Cor. 14:26-40)
False teaching and teachers (2 Cor. 11:4; 12:11; Gal. 1:6f; 1 Tim. 1:3)
Undermining of apostolic authority (2 Cor. 11:12-15)
Quarreling, jealousy, anger, slander, gossip (2 Cor. 12:20)
Living out of step with the gospel (even amongst apostles!) (Gal. 2:14; 5:7)
Grumbling and questioning (Phil. 2:14; Jas. 5:9)
Passing judgment on others on non-gospel issues (Col. 2:16f)
Idleness and busybodies (2 Thess. 3:6,11; 1 Tim. 5:13)
Devotion to speculations, vain discussion, misunderstandings (1 Tim. 1:4,7)
Self-indulgence (1 Tim. 5:6)
Unhealthy craving for controversy, envy, dissension, evil suspicions, friction (1 Tim. 6:4-5)
Falling into harmful desires and wandering away from the truth (1 Tim. 6:9)
Quarrels about words, irreverent babble, foolish controversies that breed quarrels (2 Tim. 2:14,16,23; Jas. 4:1f)
Accumulating teachers to suit our own passions (2 Tim. 4:3)
Wandering away from the truth and into myths (2 Tim. 4:4)
Sinful anger (Jas. 1:20-21)
Bitter jealousy and selfish ambition (Jas. 3:14)
Hate (1 Jn. 1:9-11)
Love of the world, desires of the flesh, pride in possessions (1 Jn. 2:15-16)
Abandoning of Jesus as our first love (Rev. 2:4)
Religious formalism and lukewarmness (Rev. 3:1-2; 15-17)

Keep in mind that this is describing issues in the local church, not the unbelieving world. What do you think about this list? Are you surprised? If this level of conflict and division was present from the beginning of Jesus’ local church, should we expect any different? This was recorded so that we would take note and learn from those who have gone before us (1 Cor. 10:11). So, what is there for us to learn here?

Three Surprising Observations about Conflict

While there is much that could be said, I’ll make three simple observations.

First, Jesus’ church has always been messy. That’s obvious enough, but it is helpful to see, isn’t it? The local church has never been conflict-free because it has never been sin-free, so we should not be surprised when it appears. This also should remove any idyllic notion we may have of the local church, past or present or future. The hunt for the perfect, conflict-free church where everyone-agrees-with-me will lead to a dead end 100% of the time. Even one of Jesus’ closest, hand-chosen followers betrayed him.

Second, this internal conflict was taking place amidst tremendous external political turmoil, cultural volatility, and persecution. Things were hard on the inside and the outside, not unlike what we’re experiencing right now. While this cultural moment is unique in the details, it is not unique in its essence. This means history has a lot to teach us in times like these. As “unprecedented” as 2020 is in some ways, in the scope of human history it is quite tame and sadly business-as-usual in a world under the siege of sin.

Third—and you may misunderstand this so please bear with me—not once does an apostle recommend an individual Christian leave a church to go to another. Not once. Of course, this could be because there was only one church in most cities. But, I believe it has more to do with the nature and implications of the gospel itself which has reconciliation at its heart (2 Cor. 5:18-19).

For example, in the case of false teaching in the churches of Galatia (Gal. 1:6-9), the apostle Paul doesn’t tell the early Christians to find another church. Instead he tells them to get rid of the false teachers so that the churches can move forward in gospel health(!) This meant believers in these small-ish early churches had to work through their differences, seek understanding, and walk-out repentance together. They couldn’t avoid one another by attending a different gathering, or transferring communities, or changing service schedules, or finding a church that aligned more with their personal convictions on tertiary issues.

Instead, the apostles called those in sin to repent (Rom. 2:4), for the mature to bear with the immature (Rom. 15:1), for individuals to not judge one another in areas of Christian freedom (Rom. 14:3-4), to have mercy on those who doubt (Jude 1:22), and for the stubbornly unrepentant to be removed from the church (1 Cor. 5:2; Mt. 18:17). But, amidst all of this, Jesus’ people are also called to:

“Pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Rom. 14:19)
“Love one another with brotherly affection.” (Rom. 12:10)
“Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Rom. 12:10)
“Live in harmony with one another.” (Rom. 12:16)
“Not be haughty…[and] never be wise in your own sight.” (Rom. 12:16)
“Not repay evil for evil.” (Rom. 12:17)
“Do what is honorable in the sight of all.” (Rom. 12:17)
“So far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Rom. 12:18)
“Never avenge ourselves.” (Rom. 12:19)
“Not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:21)

Again, remember that these commands were not given to a like-minded community for whom such things were easy or came naturally or among those with the same Enneagram score. These people were the same people that experienced the conflict recounted in the section above. The Apostles called Jesus’ people to mutual love amidst their very real differences because that is the kind of community the gospel creates.

But, please don’t misunderstand. I am not saying there aren’t valid reasons for leaving a church in our day. Nor am I saying you are unfaithful if you do transition churches (Or already have! We love you). There are good, valid reasons for transitioning to another church. But, that’s for another post. My aim here is more simple: to show how the New Testament is simultaneously realistic about conflict within the church while calling Jesus’ people to a repentant loving unity amidst it. The gospel should cause us to lean-in, not out.

Where Does This Conflict Come From?

It might help to include some of the ways the New Testament describes the origin of this conflict. Division, discord, and disunity don’t appear out of nowhere. Conflict has a complicated cocktail of sources. What are they? Here are a handful:

Spiritual warfare: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against…spiritual forces of evil.” (Eph. 6:12) The evil one is at work in conflict through lies and deception in order to cultivate conflict. He loves to sow bitterness, fear, unbelief, and suspicion in the human heart in order to reap a harvest of disunity.

Passions of the flesh: What causes quarrels and fights? James answers, “Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (Jas. 2:11) Another source of conflict are powerful internal, sinful desires that remain at work within Christians. These passions of the flesh lead us to be impatient, unloving, critical, self-righteous, arrogant, slanderous and dishonoring. When given vent, the passions of the flesh lead to conflict.

False philosophies and principles of the world: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition” (Col. 2:8). The apostles regularly warn us about the role of ideas in our lives and their source. Ideas matter. Misleading ideas, or half-truths, often lead to conflict.

Conscience: “Take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Cor. 8:9). Paul’s point in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 is that Christian consciences are not all calibrated in the same way. Some are “strong” (mature) and some are “weak” (immature). There are areas of Christian freedom in which we are genuinely free, but in which others feel more bound. These differences in conscience can also lead to conflict.

Youthfulness: “Flee youthful passions…” (2 Tim. 2:22). In context, Paul is not speaking of sexual immorality, as is often thought, but the youthful passion of winning an argument. While this may be more common in those who are younger, even the old can give into “youthful passions.” These passions almost always lead to conflict, controversy and quarreling (2 Tim. 2:23) which is why Paul warns us of them.

Personal preferences: The church in Corinth experienced conflict due to personal preferences for particular teachers. Paul pointed out, “When one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human?” Of course, it is not wrong to have personal preferences, but it is wrong for those preferences to go on to cause division and disunity within the church.

This shows us that our beliefs, convictions, and preferences are not always pure. They are often complex in their origins, which should give us pause amidst conflict. While others may be in the wrong, or partially so, we must first begin with ourselves. It is fitting to ask: Are lies of the enemy at work here? Am I examining myself first? Is this issue more about my sinful passions than my love for others? Am I being mainly led by the Scripture or by worldly ideas? Is this a central issue or an area of Christian freedom? Do I suspect this is coming from my immaturity or personal preferences?

How Will the World Know We Belong to Jesus?

Only against this sobering backdrop of conflict-ridden churches do we see the truly shocking nature of Jesus’ words in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This is a familiar verse, but the radical counter-cultural nature of it is often missed.

Jesus said this fully knowing that his people wouldn’t always agree. So, this “love for one another” is not something that only happens in optimal environments, under perfect conditions, or with a particular set of like-minded people. This “love for one another” is to happen no matter the environment, conditions, or people.

In other words, and this is really important, Jesus places love for another over alignment with one another. Jesus didn’t say the world would know we are his by our shared convictions, shared political platform, or shared philosophy of social justice, or shared face-mask practices. Jesus said the world would know we are his by our love for one another amidst these differences.

Do you see how different this is? This kind of love is attention grabbing.

The Church as a City Set on Hill Amidst Conflict

Jesus used a memorable metaphor to describe his local church in his Sermon on the Mount. He called the church a “city set on a hill” (Mt. 5:14-16):

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Here Jesus gives us a picture of the church as an elevated city, late at night, whose light is seen for miles around in the dark. This is before electricity. The darkness is complete. If you got lost after sundown, you were really lost—until you round the bend and see the city on a hill. That well-lit city on a hill becomes a beacon of hope and help, even life. Jesus was saying that his local church should be like that.

How we go about our shared life together is meant to serve as a beacon of light in a dark world that communicates hope and life to the watching world. Every one of Jesus’ local churches is meant to be an imperfect model community of God, a picture of the new humanity that God is redeeming in Jesus, through our shared life together. That shared life, including how we handle disagreement, is meant to have an attractive quality that draws people in and brings glory to God.

Are we living as a city set on a hill amidst conflict?

Our unity in Christ does not mean uniformity in life. Our unity is not based on thinking the same, voting the same, or viewing social issues the same. Our unity is in Jesus amidst our beautiful God-given diversity. You can be a genuine, intelligent Christian with good intent yet not agree with others on every issue while still continuing to love them, respect them, and share the Lord’s supper with them. Do we believe that? That relational dynamic is only possible because we are united around Someone that transcends the divisions of the world.

So, let’s not be surprised when we discover differences among us, even conflict. Instead, let’s see it as an opportunity. As uncomfortable as tension, division, and discord can be—and as much as we want to avoid them—they give us an opportunity to show the world that we belong to Jesus together.

Let’s ask ourselves: Are we living and loving Godward (1 Cor. 10:31)? Do we have a radical posture of love towards each other, as Jesus has loved us  (1 Jn. 4:11)? Are we forgiving one another, as Jesus has forgiven us (Col. 3:13)? Are we assuming the best of those who are different than us (Eph. 4:2)? Are we helping carry one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2)? Are we not only on guard for wrong, but charitable in our judgments of those who do it (Eph. 4:32)? Is there anyone you need to ask forgiveness of (Mt. 5:23f)? Do you need to reach out to someone for clarity (Phil. 2:14)?

Brothers and sisters, let’s make sure Seattle knows who we belong to in this season—not merely by our political affiliations, nor social statements, nor face-mask philosophies, nor social media posts—but by how we love one another as Jesus’ people amidst our differences. It takes humility. It takes work. It takes patience. It requires suspending judgment until all the facts are in. It takes pushing into areas that are uncomfortable. It takes grace. It takes genuine love. Most of all, it takes a heart captured by Jesus and all he is for us. Only Jesus could create a people like that—and that, my friends, is the point.

“To the King of kings and the Lord of lords…be honor and eternal dominion. Amen” (1 Tim. 6:3).

Christ is all,
Pastor Adam

Sep 17

Who Does What in the Life of the Church?

The Nature of the Local Church | by Pastor Adam Sinnett

Who Does What in the Life of the Church?

Note: This post is the second in a series (1, 3) on the nature of the local church. The intent of this series is loving clarity, amidst cultural confusion. I write with gospel-forged hope, deep love for our church, co-mingled with genuine pastoral concern. This series is intended to give us a healthy set of shared understandings about the nature of the local church by which we carry out the many important conversations of this tumultuous season. We’re in this together.

Downtown Cornerstone,

As I mentioned in my last piece, this season has revealed that there are widespread misunderstandings about what Jesus’ local church is meant to be and do—even among followers of Jesus. In this piece we will consider the role of the church in relation to the role of the individual Christian. Who does what?

This is approximately a ten minute read, so I encourage you to set aside some time to thoughtfully process.

How do the local church’s twin priorities of faith-filled proclamation and worship-full disciple-making (Mt. 28:19-20; Col. 1:28) connect to the rest of our lives—work and vocation, singleness and dating, marriage and family, trial and tragedy, conflict and conscience, hope and healing, manhood and womanhood, suffering and social issues, parenting and politics, guilt and good works?

If we misunderstand who does what in the life of the church we will misunderstand the individual role we play, neglect the privilege we have within God’s unfolding purposes, lose valuable opportunities to exercise our God-given gifts and passions, fail to love (even our enemies) as we ought, while (perhaps) assigning to others the joyful burden that is ours to bear for the good of the world. There is a lot at stake.

What Church Are We Talking About?

Let’s start with getting our definitions squared away. Clear definitions are our friends; vagueness and ambiguity are not. When we talk about the “church” it is easy to assume we are talking about the same thing. But, are we? Practically speaking, what is Jesus’ local church?

Jesus’ local church is a group of His born-again people in a particular location, created by the Spirit through the gospel of Jesus, set apart by baptism, united around the Lord’s Supper, who regularly gather together for worship, relationship, growth, and accountability under the leadership of pastors and service of deacons, for the glory of God and the good of the world.

So, when you think about “the church” you might think of its leaders (as its representatives), or the people (as its members), or the collective whole (as an institution). Which do you primarily think of?

If we think of the church primarily as “the leaders” we’ll place the burden of responsibility for the life of the church on the pastors. If we think of the church primarily as “the people”, we’ll place the burden of responsibility on the individuals. If we think of the church primarily as an “institution”, we’ll place the burden of responsibility on the organization, its structures, and processes.

Who then is responsible for fulfilling God’s purpose for his church? Is it the leaders, or the people, or the institution? Put simply, everyone is responsible, though in different ways. Understanding this is crucial to understanding the purpose of the local church and your role within it.

Who Does What?

The unique and central role of the local church, as an institution, is faith-filled proclamation of the gospel and worship-full disciple-making (Mt. 28:19-20; Col. 1:28). A healthy local church begins with the church, as a collective whole of God’s new humanity, being clear about what it is and is to be about.

Therefore, the unique and central role of pastor-elders (the NT treats these terms as synonymous) is to lead Jesus’ local people to fulfill that God-given purpose (1 Pet. 5:2). In other words, pastor-elders equip God’s people to protect, preserve and propagate the gospel (i.e. that’s proclamation) and walk as worship-full, Christ-exalting disciples in every day life (i.e. that’s disciple-making). In a word, pastors are equippers and that equipping takes place through the Scriptures, the Bible.

The unique and central role of Jesus’ people, then, is to live out this equipping in every day life. So, while pastors equip, Jesus’ people do the good works prepared for them by God (Eph. 4:12; 2:10). Of course, pastors are among Jesus’ people as co-laboring doers, but here I am speaking of the God-ordained uniqueness of these roles. So, let’s consider these differences more carefully.

What Pastors Do

The pastor-elders of Jesus’ local church are primarily equippers. In Ephesians 4:11-12, the apostle Paul explains that God gave leaders to his church to “equip the saints for the work of ministry”. Pastors are men of God, who are called and qualified by God, to unfold the Word of God, for the equipping of the people of God, to do the good works of God, for the glory of God.

Pastors are brokers of truth (2 Tim. 2:15), real reality, in a world gone awry and under bondage to sin (Rom. 8:21). They are trained in the Scriptures, the original languages, church history, biblical studies, systematic theology, christology, soteriology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, eschatology, hermeneutics, homiletics, apologetics, counseling care and more. Why? Because pastors are stewards of God’s truth (1 Tim. 1:4; Titus 1:7) for the equipping, flourishing, transforming, and joy-filled persevering of God’s people.

How do pastor-elders do this equipping? From the Scriptures. Paul explains in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that:

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, and for training in righteousness, that the man [and woman] of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

In other words, pastoral equipping happens primarily through God’s Word in the Bible. God’s Word equips us for “every good work” (every one!) which is why it is His word that pastors must be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Tim. 2:24), rightly handle (2 Tim. 2:15), and hold fast (Titus 1:9).

Why? Because what we hold to be true gives shape to our lives, our relationships, our singleness, our marriages, our parenting, our vocations, our decision-making, our hopes, our suffering, our successes, our emotions, our evangelism, and our eternal future. This is why pastors must be able to correct those in error (2 Tim. 2:25) and identify whatever is “contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:10; 2 Tim. 4:3).

We also see a similar call to pastoral Word-based equipping in the great commission in Matthew 28:20 where Jesus tells the apostles to “[teach his people] to observe all that I have commanded you.” The leaders of Jesus’ church are to teach his people to walk in his ways. Where do we find Jesus’ ways? Again, in the Scriptures, all of which point to him (Lk. 24:27; Jn. 5:39). This is why Paul pleads with Timothy to “Keep a close watch…on the teaching” (1 Tim. 4:16) and to “guard the deposit” of truth entrusted to him.

So, the role of a pastor is not a junk drawer for anything-that-might-help-and-inspire-people.

Rather, pastors are men of God (1 Tim. 3:1-7), commissioned by God (2 Cor. 2:17), in the presence of God (2 Tim. 4:1), to preach (2 Tim. 4:2), protect  (1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:14) and propagate the gospel of Jesus (2 Tim. 2:2), while equipping Jesus’ people to live as joy-filled worshippers through teaching, encouraging, loving, admonishing, and correcting (2 Cor. 1:24; Phil. 1:25; 2 Tim. 4:2; Titus 2:15).

Why? So that Jesus’ people progressively learn how to faithfully follow him in every day life, and all it throws at them, through the lens of God’s truth, whether amidst unwanted singleness or suffering, conflict or catastrophe, sin or social issues.

Therefore, pastors are not politicians, nor activists, nor community health workers. Pastors are not sociologists, nor businessmen, nor social workers. Pastors are not entertainers, nor managers, nor marketers. Pastors are not life coaches, nor strategists, nor creative visionaries. Pastors are not salesman, subtle comedians, or fashionistas. Pastors are not epidemiologists or experts in constitutional law. Christians may fill any one of these roles. But, those are not the role of a pastor. If a pastor wants to fill one of these other roles, he may, provided he understands those are fundamentally different than the role of the pastor. Yes, there may be overlap in areas. But, that does not negate the primary role of the pastor to lovingly lead a church to be about faith-filled proclamation of the gospel and worship-full disciple-making. Pastors are equippers from God’s Word.

Pastoral Equipping

As pastors we take this God-mandated, Word-based call to equip the saints very seriously.

These are just some of the ways that the pastor-elders of DCC, albeit imperfectly, are equipping God’s people to protect, preserve and propagate the gospel (i.e. proclamation) and walk as worship-full, Christ-exalting disciples in every day life (i.e. disciple-making) through God’s Word. In a word, pastors equip individual followers of Jesus with a biblical worldview for how to navigate life and all it throws at them.

What Christians Do

So, while pastors equip, individual Christians are to do the “work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12)Put simply, followers of Jesus are to put into practice the equipping they receive.

So, for example, the elders biblically equip on the wickedness of racism and the many ways it has given shape to the world we are in. Then, Jesus’ people seek to put racism to death in their lives, or peacefully protest, or write letters to their representatives, or create new policies at work, or invest in impoverished communities, or volunteer, or start a non-profit, or read more broadly, or befriend others who are different, and more. The pastors equip from God’s Word, Jesus’ people do.

Or, the elders biblically equip on the nature of earthly politics and its function within God’s greater kingdom purposes. Then, Jesus’ people seek to wisely and graciously serve as faithful citizens of the city of man, while their ultimate identity is found as citizens of the city of God. So, we steward our ability to vote, we listen to the viewpoints of others, we consider running for political office, and are careful not to bind consciences where God does not. The pastors equip from God’s Word, Jesus’ people do.

Or, the elders biblically equip, and model, the importance of ongoing discipleship. Then, Jesus’ people seek to welcome one another (Rom. 15:7), not judge one another (Rom. 14:13), instruct one another (Rom. 15:14), love and honor one another (Rom. 12:10; 1 Thess. 3:12; 4:9), bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), be patient with one another (Col. 3:13), teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16), encourage one another and build one another up (1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11), while holding one another accountable (Mt. 18:15-20). The pastors equip from God’s Word, Jesus’ people do.

Or, the elders teach how good works blossom in genuinely regenerate hearts (Eph. 2:10). They explain that practical love for others will flow out of God’s love for us in Jesus (1 John 4:7f) and that these works will be marked by the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). These good works will begin with the needs of those in closest proximity (Prov. 3:27; 1 Tim. 5:8) and prioritize those “who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10).

Then, Jesus’ people move into our fallen world, in ways big and small, to love their families and friends, neighbors and enemies. They stand up for the voiceless, oppressed, and trafficked. They weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15). They come alongside those ravaged by divorce or poverty, famine or disease, abuse or adultery, homelessness or addiction. They care for single mothers, kids stuck in the foster cul-de-sac, and those burned over by the lies of the so-called sexual revolution. The pastors equip from God’s Word, Jesus’ people do.

Should Churches Lead On Social Issues?

So, in light of these distinctions, should churches lead the charge on social issues, or rebuking public officials, or advocating for specific public policy decisions? Well, again, we must define our terms. What do we mean by “leadership”?

Yes, if leadership is taken to mean spreading the gospel of Jesus, teaching biblical principles, identifying the root of evil and its manifold manifestations, heralding the riches of Christ, living for God, pursuing faithfulness, cultivating worship, loving our neighbors and enemies, and making disciples—disciples that then go on to lobby for change, write articles, become experts in tax law or foreign policy or community development, get involved in politics, start new organizations, get in the trenches as volunteers, and/or bring good works into their relational spheres in ten thousand different ways. In this way, the leadership of the institutional church in social engagement is indirect, but no less potent and arguably more so.

But, no, if leadership is taken to mean that the church-as-institution should get involved in such a way that its unique task is side-lined or watered-down. Pastor-elders should not get in the practice of offering specific solutions to climate change, inequitable tax policies, immigration reform, philosophies of policing, global food shortages, or structures that perpetuate inequalities. That is the role of individual Christians. The pastors, of course, may have personal opinions on such matters, but that is beside the point. The pastoral role is not a platform for personal opinions, but faithful equipping. The pastors equip from God’s Word, Jesus’ people do.

The good, beautiful and necessary works of individual followers of Jesus, are different than the good, beautiful, and necessary works of the church as an institution. This distinction does not make the corporate church complicit in social issues, but faithful to God’s unique purpose amidst them. The institution of the church is not responsible to right every wrong, or meet every need, as much as we’d like to. Its role, under the servant leadership of pastor-elders is to form truth-soaked, Bible-forged, God-centered, Jesus-satisfied, Spirit-empowered, redemptively-diverse followers who then go into the world to affect that kind of change. We believe more change is brought about in this way, not less.

History shows us that this is how God changes the world. Let’s be part of that, together.

Christ is all,
Pastor Adam

Aug 21

What are your Expectations of Jesus’ Local Church?

The Nature of the Local Church | by Pastor Adam Sinnett

What are your Expectations of Jesus' Local Church?

Note: This post is the first in a series (2, 3) on the nature of the local church. The intent of this series is loving clarity, amidst cultural confusion. I write with gospel-forged hope, deep love for our church, co-mingled with genuine pastoral concern. This series is intended to give us a healthy set of shared understandings about the nature of the local church by which we carry out the many important conversations of this tumultuous season. We’re in this together.

Downtown Cornerstone,

One thing this season has made clear is that there are widespread misunderstandings about what Jesus’ local church is meant to be and do—even among followers of Jesus.

Over the last six months the elders of DCC have received numerous questions, recommendations, and criticisms in relation to what we should be doing as a church in regards to: our pandemic response, the relationship between church and state, timing and content of communication, growing unemployment, the homelessness crisis, political partisanship, systemic injustice, police brutality, social protests, and more.

We welcome questions, suggestions, and critique. My intent here is not to silence nor chastise. Rather, my purpose is to make an observation. I have noticed that under many of these inquiries are vastly different expectations of what Jesus’ local church is.

What are your expectations of Jesus’ church? Where do they come from? That’s what this post is about.

Expectations are powerful, but often hidden

Expectations are everything in relationships, whether with people or organizations. Expectations are powerful beliefs about what should happen, or what we expect, within a particular relationship. These beliefs often lurk behind the scenes based on our understanding of what that relationship does and does not entail. Since they are largely assumed, we typically don’t question them and we can forget how much shaping influence they have in our relationships.

We understand this innately. We expect hospitals to care for the sick. We expect universities to educate. We expect governments to govern. We expect libraries to lend books. We expect museums to showcase historical artifacts. We expect Seattle to vote Democratic. Why? That is what those groups do.

However, we don’t expect our doctor to deliver our dinner. We don’t expect our local elementary school to respond to a 911 call. We don’t expect libraries to rotate our tires. We don’t expect our Uber drive to raise our kids. Why not? That is not what those groups do. If we have those expectations, we will find ourselves disappointed, at best, or disillusioned, at worst.

In other words, when our expectations are not met, some degree of conflict is inevitable. But, that conflict can have one of two sources. It may be due to one party not living up to the shared expectations of their relationship, such as a cheating spouse. Or, one party may have wrong expectations of a relationship. If you go to Trader Joe’s to renew your license tabs you will be forever disappointed and disgruntled, though it is no fault of Trader Joe’s.

Both result in conflict, but the source of the conflict is different; the former is rooted in shared expectations and the latter in wrong ones. All of this has bearing on our current cultural moment.

What are your expectations of Jesus’ local church?

What do you expect Jesus’ local church to be and do? Have you thought about that? Our expectations are often formed through a mixture of biblical understanding, personal preference, past experience, varying emotions, influential teachers, and life circumstances.

So, what should we expect from the local church? Here are some things that may come to mind:

teach the Bible, spread the gospel, defend the faith, evangelize, make disciples, baptize, celebrate the Lord’s supper, teach classes and catechize, perform weddings and funerals, practice church discipline, counsel the hurting, run after the wandering, visit the sick, help the widow, cast vision and create strategic plans, missionally innovate, plant churches, send missionaries, create programs (kids, youth, college, singles, empty nesters), lead mission trips, entertain, manage (finances, property and staff), develop a social media presence, and address social issues (homelessness, addiction, immigration, human trafficking, politics, foster care, racism, abortion, youth incarceration, food security, water access, etc).

That’s quite a list. Must a healthy, Jesus-loving local church do all these?

The chasm between “could” and “must”

There is a huge chasm between “could” and “must”; between “can” and “ought.” One is an option, while the other is a divine mandate. We should be careful of placing “oughts” where a particular issue is a “can.” Such as, you ought to do something about homelessness. You ought to say something about a particular news event. You ought to do something about police brutality. The word ought implies a church is disobedient if it doesn’t. But, is it?

What ought Jesus’ local church do? What is the church? Why does it exist? You can see why this is important. If we’re not clear on what the church is and why it exists, we may end up expecting things of the church that God does not—and, as a result, find ourselves disappointed and disgruntled because of those errant expectations, though it is no fault of the church.

So, it is helpful to ask ourselves, “Do my expectations for Jesus’ church align with Jesus’ expectations of it?”

What is God’s purpose for Jesus’ local church?

So, what is God’s purpose for the local church? Well, think about it this way. We can only understand the church’s purpose in light of God’s ultimate purpose. What is that? God’s ultimate purpose is to have his unsearchable riches seen (Mt. 28:18-20; Eph. 3:8-9; Rom. 11:33), savored (1 Pet. 2:3; Ps. 34:8), and shown (1 Cor. 10:31; Eph. 2:10; Jn. 13:35) in the whole-hearted worship of his people from every nation, tribe, people, and language (Rev. 7:9). This is God’s great purpose in the universe.

Ok, so how does God plan to accomplish this purpose? God primarily plans to accomplish this purpose through his local church. Go slow here. We will never fully grasp the significance of Jesus’ local church if we don’t see its connection to God’s purposes in the universe. They are inseparably connected.

Consider what the church is. The church is not your typical non-profit or voluntary association. Jesus’ local church is a radically diverse supernatural creation of God, secured by the Son of God, empowered by the Spirit of God, led by the Word of God, to accomplish the mission of God, for the glory of God and the everlasting joy of the people of God (Jn. 15:11; 16:24; 1 Jn. 1:4). In a word, the local church is a miracle.

The mission of Jesus’ local church—the reason his church exists—is to go into the world, in the power of the Spirit, to make disciples of Jesus through evangelism (corporate and personal proclamation of the gospel) and discipleship (worship-filled, joy-fueled obedience), while seeking to plant healthy churches that do the same everywhere for the glory of God (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; Col 1:28).

This is our unique and central task—faith-filled proclamation and worship-full disciple-making, together. This work of the church is how God is fulfilling his purposes in the universe to this day. Think about that.

There is nothing else like Jesus’ church

In other words, the purpose of Jesus’ local church is utterly unique. No one else on the planet can do this work. No other organization on the planet can do this work. God has given this unique purpose to his local church. If the local church doesn’t do it, no one else will because no one else can.

Only Jesus’ local church has God’s inerrant inspired Word through which we learn the truth of reality, the truth of who God is, and the truth of what it means to be human.

Only Jesus’ local church has the incomparable gospel, by which we learn how to be reconciled, forgiven, adopted and counted righteous by God, in Christ.

Only Jesus’ local church is considered by God to be the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16), family of God (Eph. 2:19), body of Christ (Rom. 12:5), embassy of the Kingdom (Phil. 3:20), and the pillar of truth (1 Tim. 3:15).

Only Jesus’ local church has the ordinances of baptism and Lord’s Supper by which his people are identified and set apart as those who belong to him.

Only Jesus’ local church has the responsibility of making and maturing disciples of all nations and spurring one another on as the Day draws near (Heb. 10:25).

Only Jesus’ local church is the salt and light of God, a people of convictional kindness who cultivate a faithful presence in their communities, in Jesus’ name, from the avenues to the alley ways.

Only Jesus’ church has pastors who shepherd, deacons who serve, and members who love another as fellow citizens of the kingdom to come.

In other words, there is nothing like Jesus’ local church. It is utterly unique.

So, while there are many things the church could do, what it must do is faithfully proclaim the gospel and cultivate worship-full disciples as God’s new humanity in Jesus. While the church cares deeply about politics, it is not a partisan organization. While the church cares deeply about justice, it is not a social justice organization. While the church cares deeply about current events, it is not a news organization which offers ongoing cultural commentary. While the church cares deeply about virtue, it is not responsible to signal its virtue to merely appease the culture.

The church is a local expression of God’s new, diverse, redeemed people with a specific purpose: to faithfully proclaim the gospel and cultivate worship-full disciples for God’s glory. While there are many things we could do, this is what we must do. This is the heart beat of every faith-filled, bible-saturated, Spirit-dependent, God-centered, Christ-satisfied local church. This is where our primary energies should be directed. This is what we should expect from a healthy local church, whether gathered or scattered.

Anything else is peripheral to these primary purposes. That is not to say other issues are unimportant. They are often very important. But it is to say they lie outside the primary purpose of Jesus’ local church. Jesus alone is the center and circumference of reality. When we get his purposes for his local church right, it then goes on to shape and inform everything else.

Do your expectations for Jesus’ church align with Jesus’ expectations of it?

In an upcoming post, we will continue to consider what Jesus’ local church is meant to be and do by looking at the differences between the role of the church, as a whole, and the individual Christian.

With you, and for you, in Christ,
Pastor Adam

To read the next post in this series, click here.