“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he” (Prov. 29:18).
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17)
There is an old expression which states that “What the mind of man can conceive the ability of man can achieve.” While the thought is not absolutely correct it does contain a word of wisdom. Man, made in the image of God, can see things that are not, but shall be.
There was a time when men could not fly. It was only a dream. But in 1903 on December 17th, along the sandy dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, two brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright made the dream come true. At 10:35 A.M. on that cold wintry morning they dropped the wire holding their flying machine. There was sand blowing, high wind, the machine began to crawl forward. Finally after about 45 feet it lifted into the air, 120 feet, twelve seconds later, it touched the earth. Humanity had flown.
There was a time when men only dreamed of walking on the moon. As spacecraft commander for the Apollo 11 lunar mission, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the Moon. “The Eagle has landed,” he said. The dream came true.
In America in the 1950s, summertime was a time of fear and anxiety for many parents; this was the season when children by the thousands became infected with the crippling disease of polio. But this burden of fear was lifted forever when it was announced that Dr. Jonas Salk (1914-1995) had developed a vaccine against the disease. A dream of health had come true. What the mind of man conceived—flight, space travel, better health—the ability of man achieved—by the grace of God.
In June of 1998, there formed in the hearts of thirteen families a dream of staying together in order to create a new community of believers here in a small town in the hills of Pennsylvania. The Lord was gracious. In His providential care a Baptist church was formally organized. For six months the Church families met in homes until in January 1999, the Lord allowed the purchase of the permanent facilities. Many improvements were made on the church building to include a new roof, internal repairs, an office for the pastor, landscaping, and the placement of a large church sign.
Over a three year period a variety of ministries took place that included Sunday School, Sunday worship services, a Wednesday prayer time with Bible studies, VBS, Bible conferences, special musical programs, fellowship dinners, a mission program, and community outreach efforts.
As important as these activities might be, the greater focus of attention must continue on what people are as a Church more so than what they do. In some ways a Reformed Baptist Church is distinct from other local assemblies, beginning with its doctrinal emphasis. Reformed Baptist hold to a high view of God, while humbling the pride of man. The sovereignty of God is exalted. There is a desire to promote the past faith of our forefathers, rather than embrace present prophetic utterances.
There are other distinctive facets which are rooted in a vision of what the New Testament Church should be.
First, the Church is to be a company of those who are committed to the person of Christ. Above all else the local assembly must be committed to the person of Christ, for without Him we can do nothing.
To be committed to Christ means to love Him sincerely, to obey Him cheerfully, to learn of Him daily, to serve Him readily, and in the end, to be like Him completely.
The Bible says that Jesus called twelve disciples to be with Him in order to be like Him. In 1897 Thomas O. Chisholm wrote a lovely hymn with the theme, being like Christ.
“O to be like Thee! Blessèd Redeemer,
This my constant longing and prayer;
Gladly I’ll forfeit all of earth’s treasures,
Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear.
O to be like Thee! O to be like Thee,
Blessed Redeemer, pure as Thou art;
Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness;
Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart.
O to be like Thee! Full of compassion,
Loving, forgiving, tender and kind,
Helping the helpless, cheering the fainting,
Seeking the wandering sinner to find.
O to be like Thee! Lowly in spirit,
Holy and harmless, patient and brave;
Meekly enduring cruel reproaches,
Willing to suffer others to save.
O to be like Thee! Lord, I am coming
Now to receive anointing divine;
All that I am and have I am bringing,
Lord, from this moment all shall be Thine.
O to be like Thee! While I am pleading,
Pour out Thy Spirit, fill with Thy love;
Make me a temple meet for Thy dwelling,
Fit me for life and heaven above.”
Second, the local Church is to be an assembly obedient to the Great Commission as given by Christ. In Matthew 28:18-20 we read, “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
Every Christian is under a divine obligation to think of advancing the gospel locally, and beyond that to the ends of the earth. Any thought that constricts the focus of the Great Commission must be challenged. The temptation comes to be self-absorbed. Those who study churches refer to this as the Fortress Mentality. It can also be called the “Us Four and No More Syndrome.” If we are blessed by the gospel we must become a source of blessing to others, which means that every Christian must find a way to be a witness before the world. Jesus said, “whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 10:34).
When we first begin to witness, Satan will make sure there is an immediate negative reaction to the early attempts to share our faith. Satan does this to try to discourage the heart, and many times he is successful. But God has promised that we shall reap, if we faint not. Galatians 6:9 “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”
Third, the Church is be characterized as a caring community. If there is a curse upon modern Christendom it is to emphasize the material over the spiritual to the point that the heart grows careless, cold, and then fearful of the future. Expanded ministries are curtailed. We, as Christians, must guard our hearts.
We must guard our hearts so that faith does not become an excuse for foolishly over reaching, and making commitments that cannot be kept.
We must guard our hearts so that a lack of faith is not allowed to discourage legitimate expressions of Divine guidance.
There are some fundamental concepts that will help in the guarding of the heart. Consider the pastor as a Shepherd. He is to be followed, but not as a hired employee of a religious organization. There is an important difference. In John 10 Jesus pointed out two negative characteristics of the hireling.
The hireling is more interested in his own security than the safety and welfare of the sheep. “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. 12 But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep” (John 10:11-12).
When the wolf came to harm His people, Jesus stood still. He was able to destroy the wolf at Calvary and regather His sheep. The hireling does not care for the sheep. “The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep” (John 10:13).
The hireling cares for his own self-interest. If the Church is placed exclusively in terms of a business enterprise, then the paid professional will seek the most money, with the best benefits, and the greatest level of future security. Many a man, being worldly wise, has place himself in such a position within the religious community, but he can never be called a Shepherd of God’s people. He is only a hireling.
The only way to develop a caring community along biblical terms is to embrace those thoughts that look upon the pastor as a Shepherd of the Soul, and not as a hired professional that really has only his best interest at heart, and only pretends to care. Why do we put an emphasis on proper respect be given between the pastor and the people? Because there is more of a connection than may be noted. Many years again Bishop J. C. Ryle pointed this out in his writings.
“Either the pastor, by his preaching, his conversation, his example, the daily acts of his ministry, succeeds in developing among his flock a healthy religious life, drawn from communion with Christ, abounding in the fruits of sanctification and love…or the pastor, by his pathetic discourses, his ingenious explanations, succeeds indeed in attracting a great concourse of hearers, in producing enthusiastic admiration and lively emotions; but all this stir is only external and superficial; with it all, there is not real consecration to the Savior. This faith without energy, this love without the spirit of sacrifice, this hope without joy or elasticity, this Christianity saturated with egoism and vanity: such are the wood, hay, and stubble.”
Maintain a special ministry fund large enough to meet the spiritual needs of the assembly. How good it is to be able to go to help others. When the “Macedonian Call” comes (Acts 16:9). How enjoyable it is to invite others to come and minister to us, and reward them for their labors. How important it is to take care of the needs of God’s people. A discretionary ministry fund is essential to a caring community.
Seek for personal revival by being a solemn assembly. Listen to the Word of God calling another generation to spiritual renewal. “Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the LORD your God, and cry unto the LORD, 15 Alas for the day! for the day of the LORD is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come” (Joel 1:14-15).
Richard Owens Roberts lists ten practical suggestions for a solemn assembly in the local church.
A solemn assembly is to be a time when all normal daily work is set aside.
A solemn assembly is a time when the entire body of people affected by the righteous judgment are required to be in attendance.
A solemn assembly is a time of fasting.
A solemn assembly is a time for sacrifice.
A solemn assembly is of protracted duration.
A solemn assembly is a season of earnest prayer.
A solemn assembly is a mandatory occasion for corporate repentance.
A solemn assembly is an opportunity for Spirit-anointed preaching of the searching truths of Scripture to deeply touch afresh the lives of God’s people.
A solemn assembly is a most wonderful opportunity for children to see their parents and elders demonstrate Christianity in its deepest corporate levels.
A solemn assembly gives God an opportunity to respond to His people at a level He cannot possibly do when they are living in neglect of His Word or in direct violation of His commandments.
Here is a wonderful vision of the local church which is rooted in Scripture. A biblical Church is one which is committed to Christ, under the authority of the Great Commission and cares for others with compassion. Let us hold this vision of the Church close to our hearts lest the people perish.