Truth is Truth

"You, O LORD, will not withhold Your compassion from me; Your lovingkindness and Your truth will continually preserve me." - Psalm 40:11 This is a sometimes monthly column concerning the truth of Christ Jesus and the issues that face our world as published in various newspapers and journals by Pastor Dave Seaford. You can return to the home page of the church by going to:

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Location: Redway, California, United States

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Church is NOT a Social Club

Let me begin this article with the Biblical premise that the Church is the base from which people are trained up and sent out to DO ministry AND in the midst of doing genuine ministry that God ministers both to, and through His children. Now that may not sound very profound, but let me tell you this is NOT the view of the church even by most of the people sitting in those steepled buildings on most Sunday mornings.

Matthew 28:18 – 19, Ephesians 4:1 – 5:2 and from an abundance of other scriptures we find that we are primarily to be the servants and not the served. Yet today I hear both people in the church and people visiting our churches speak of the church as if it were a social club where one pays his dues and therefore has certain expectations and rights. Visitors often say to me openly that they are “shopping for a church”, or “looking for a church that can best serve them” or “seeking a church with the best programs for their needs”. All of these are excellent measurements for a Social Club or for evaluating a Community Center perhaps, but this in NO WAY is the Biblical measure of any church.

Go to the back of your Bible to the book of Revelation and see how God judges the churches in Revelation 2:29 – chapter 3. Certainly this is the word of God concerning how God will judge His churches in the end times, but these are also God’s standards of HOW He is judging His churches today!

The church is the place where you come to be equipped for ministry (Eph. 4:12) and where you come to do ministry (Matt. 28:19). Most of the complaints I hear from church members is because they have this very basic Biblical construct of the church turned upside down. They come to be served and with their eyes focused not on what their family can give and how their family can best serve, but immaturely in a way that gets puffed up when someone in their family is not stroked just right or pampered in a way that is totally and completely focused on themselves and without regard for what this may mean to others. When this happens 100% of the time it is because the person has registered the church in their mind as a social organization established for the purpose of meeting their particular needs. This is further exaggerated by the fact that additionally they see their tithe, not as belonging to God already but as dues which issue them certain rights as “members” of the assembly. …and when they give more than their tithe, they often expect Platinum Club status with even greater privileges. God’s word to us is this concerning those that look for special acknowledgment and accolades: “they have received their reward already” (Matt. 6:2).

The truth is that most of us ministers are highly at fault for this misconception as well as the ungodly attitude that it brings into our churches. With the whole “Church Growth” movement and the high emphasis being placed on how many people any given church can get in the door, we (church leadership) have turned to how we can best “market” our particular church to the community instead of how we can best genuinely prepare ourselves to reach people for Christ in that community.

I can not tell you how many times I have heard the words: “but my situation is different,” or “my child is different and has special needs”. I’ve got news for you, everyone’s situation is different and everyone’s child has special needs. If you are a Christ follower who actually reads and studies the scriptures you will realize quickly that the way to find healing for you and your children is for you and your children to find a place of service where in the process of REALLY ministering to others God begins to show you your place and bring actual healing into your life. This requires a person to come with a humble and hungry spirit ready to learn and to grow under the leadership and mentorship of another and thus become better and better prepared to serve. When one comes with an attitude of superiority or a human spirit that needs to be fed “ego bites”, then this is just another “give me”, self centered social club agenda and God’s work is very rarely done by that person or in the environment that they create.

Leadership is not a right of chronological age, personality, financial prowess, or political favor as a result of last name, athletic ability or popularity. Christian leadership is a gift of God that is developed and honed under the tutelage of Godly leaders who also must keep what is best for the flock as their primary focus. Sometimes that means those whose needs are worldly who are trying to fulfill those needs in a church environment will have to be removed for the greater good of the entire flock (see the detailed instruction in Matthew 18 for more on this or pick up a copy of the Belview Baptist Church July 22nd Morning message on dvd which is free for the asking).

No, the church is not a social club, not a recreation center and not a place that caters to ANY one person at the sacrifice or even the harm of others. Even the story of the lost sheep in its context of history and tradition understands that what the shepherd did for the one lost sheep was never done at the risk of the entire flock (also see MacArthur commentary on Matthew and the dvd of the Belview Baptist Church August 5th Morning message). There were typically multiple shepherds in any given flock which were normally the property of the community NOT a single individual or even a single family.

Today the problems are many in the church, but the hurt and harm caused by individuals getting upset because their particular way was not established or maintained is more often than not in the center of most unholy debates and the root of passions out of control. These kinds of attitudes and actions never bring God glory.

If we would just remember that it is ALL about Jesus.

Position Statement on Biblical Baptism


To Whom It May Concern:

By the grace of God and for His glory alone is the following position statement which is made necessary by rumor and innuendo that brings division rather than the unity commanded by our Lord. As a pastor and leader, called of God to edify His body, not to ever quench the Spirit and to glorify Him, I offer up His word as guidance for us all.

Because culture and the traditions of men so form religious activity, some of which throughout history has taken man further from God rather than closer, it is critical that every Christian look to God’s word alone as His guide for daily living. Leaders in the Church need to be doubly careful to surrender to this premise otherwise we are no better than the Hindu or Muslim leader that leads and teaches due to where and how he was raised and what he blindly and freely received as truth without question. God’s word is our source of truth in a world that claims there is no truth. If we believe this then all culture and tradition that challenges the efficacy of God’s word even slightly must be set aside by genuine God called leaders in favor of this truth.

It is expected that some would say that it is a matter of interpretation of God’s word as to what truth really is. To that I would agree. If one’s interpretation is through the eyes of tradition rather than the literal, historical and grammatical method (Jesus’ consistent teaching and interpretive method) of coming to know God’s truth, we will be constantly deceived and blinded from that truth.

Baptism and church membership are no where biblically linked in the “causal” sense. In other words, baptism biblically is not a method of ushering someone into church membership. Baptism, which means to be taken beneath the water, is however commanded (literally a Greek imperative) by Jesus in the great commission (Matthew 28:18-19), and therefore should be one requirement for the privilege of church membership. This can be shown to be true by the later part of the Great Commission which is clearly about teaching “them to obey all that I have commanded you” (v. 19). Obedience to Christ and following Christ and identification in Christ and the testimony of Christ in a life is the nature and solemn and holy essence of baptism. It is about the death burial and resurrection of Christ. It is about Jesus and what He has done for us. This is, and should be the focus of every baptism service – Jesus. To identify baptism as the causal agent of church membership or of receiving people into church membership, rather than just one requirement for church membership, it seems to me diminishes the fact that in every way baptism is about Jesus, not our local body and not what we have done to acquire church membership. Show me just one place in the Bible where baptism was the method of receiving a person into the Ekklesia, rather than just one requirement for church membership and I will change my position. Yet herein I will point to several specific cases where we have Biblical example of baptism where no local church even existed. As I said, the Bible is our source of truth and our only guide to what is important. Further the Bible should be our only light on the methods and ways of God which we accept into the church.

I believe in baptism by immersion and that this was the method of John the Baptist as he baptized our Lord AND further that it was the way that Jesus baptized His followers. I believe, as is shown in the Great Commission that God is not going to force us to be baptized but rather it is a call on every Christian to obedience. Thus baptism is a choice of every Christian and while not salvific (note the thief on the cross next to Jesus – “this day you will be with me in paradise”), it is an indication of one that desires to follow Jesus. Thus the historical words that have echoed through the churches throughout the centuries: “this one has chosen to follow our Lord in baptism”. Note that when Peter preached that great sermon at Pentecost that the call and command was to Christ and the instruction to those whose “hearts were pricked” was to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:36 – 38). Here God’s word says that that day there was added about three thousand SOULS. No where is the local church even mentioned here. When Phillip taught and then at the Eunuch’s request baptized him in the wilderness of those barren plains we see no evidence of any local church whose purpose it was to usher one into membership. It was about Jesus and His love and sacrifice for us. It was about obedience and a genuine desire to follow the imperatives of the Lord (Acts 8:27 – 39). It was about that nourishment of the soul that comes ONLY as we follow our Master willingly becoming His servant. Again, to diminish all of this by making it about indoctrination into membership of a specific local church is to rob a person of the blessing of knowing the true meaning and purpose of the event.

Recently a mother of a local church member went through a series of surgeries, came close to death several times and as she came and went out of consciousness in the hospital with a tube taped in her mouth so that she could not speak, it was obvious there were things she wanted to talk to me about, but could not. Weeks of hospitalization resulted in much time for her to contemplate eternity. I had already ask her several times the year before if she knew the Lord and her reply was always the same; that she was “alright with Him”. But now when the tube was removed, she requested to have me come back to the hospital and after several questions and some heart felt confessions in which she concluded that she needed Jesus in her life. I ask her if she would like to ask Him into her heart, to which she very quickly answered; “yes”. Later than month she indicated that she desired to be baptized and to “follow Jesus” in this way, but that she could not get down into water and certainly could not get safely into the baptistery. Her surgery and illness had left her on a walker and with still open surgical wounds that would be compromised by her being submerged or man handled in any way that might be required to get her in a position to be baptized by submersion. Yet, as she said, I want to “follow Jesus.” This is the obedience called for in the Scriptures. So, after several other baptisms by submersion one Sunday morning at which time (as is my habit) I spoke of the importance of the picture of the death, burial and resurrection, I came down from behind the baptistery, sat Doris in front of the church and with a bowl and pitcher; and with her head tilted back and her looking upward, we “took her beneath the water” by pouring it over her head and face baptizing her in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Her obedience to follow Jesus with ALL that she physically could do was a great testimony to many in the church that simply will not come for baptism because they are afraid of what someone will think or because their Church of Christ families might shun them or simply because they do not want to. Perhaps the greatest testimony in baptism since I have been at Belview was seen that day in this person who in spite of her great infirmities chose to obey and follow Christ.

Yes, I am an ordained Southern Baptist preacher, I am also a Doctor of Theology and understand the importance of Baptism by immersion. But above all else I am a Christian first who is sold out to what God says is important and critical within His word. Our walk of faith is about a relationship with Christ that demands by definition our obedience to Him where traditions and methods never stand in the way of relationship and heart felt obedience. Christ’s teaching and actions always defied the legalistic acts that were expected of Him. AND Yes, I would do this all again under similar circumstances. May He be honored and praised!

Lastly with regard to the subject of baptism I would like to address “believer’s baptism” as a matter of definition and as a matter of Biblical example. It has come to my attention that because of doctrines found in some Missionary Baptist Churches as well as most Church of Christ groups that the term “believer’s baptism” has somehow become associated with their doctrines of these exclusivists in the minds of some. It seems to me there is a confusion of terms and on the part of some, even a re-defining of what historically has been called “believer’s baptism”. From the time of Josephus we find “believer’s baptism” used to describe those who chose to follow Christ in baptism AFTER making a decision to accept Christ as Lord. It was simply a term which was (and should be today) used to point to the fact that baptism was about “following”, an act of “obedience”, and of willing “identification” of the believer with Christ. This of course precludes infant baptism because the infant can not with understanding willingly choose to obey, but in no way should this term be restricted to those who baptize “into the church” which is the act of every exclusivist group and is one which normally indicates that the church believes that there is something unique about their baptism and specific church. Sometimes belief of uniqueness is to the extreme of believing that they are the only ones going to heaven. This is one of the five clear indicators of a cult as established by Dr. Ron Rhoads, and which is nearly universally accepted by evangelical scholars around the world.

To accept someone’s previous baptism therefore, I would suggest a simple but essential set of standards which are also readily accepted by most evangelical churches. It has nothing to do with whether they are coming from a Southern Baptist Church or other church of “like faith.” It rather has to do with the believers spiritual position at the time of their baptism. The only question is: Did they believe and had they accepted the Jesus of the Bible, prior to their baptism. I don’t personally accept anyone’s transfer of letter or statement of faith (Southern Baptist or not) without having a conversation with them to make sure they know the Jesus of the Bible and that they knew Him at the time of their baptism. IF, because of their teaching and upbringing, they were taught about and they accepted a Jesus other than the biblical Jesus and on that basis they were baptized, then they MUST be baptized with an acceptance of the one true Jesus having been made prior to that baptism. AND this is NOT then a re-baptism. It is their only baptism. Baptism then is a one time event under these clear but simple standards. From Matthew 3 to Matthew 20 to Mark 1 to Mark 10 to Mark 16 to Luke 3 to Luke 7 to John 3 to John 4 to John 10 to Acts 1 & 2; to Acts 8,9,10 & 11; to Acts 16, 18, 19 and 22; to Romans 6 and 1 Corinthians 1, 10, 12 & 15; and all the way to Galatians 3: 27 which says: “for as many of you that have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ,” we see a consistent picture and theme. That picture and theme is one baptism perhaps most clearly stated in Ephesians 4:5 which says specifically there is “one baptism” Certainly the picture and ordinance we present in water baptism should be no different than the reality of the one baptism that is “into Christ”. In every single biblical case we find the tense, voice and mood of the Greek verb form of baptism exclusively points to a one time event, and as if that were not enough Ephesians 4:5 clearly and specifically says it: “one baptism”.

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, we do not believe that the water of baptism sanctifies us. BUT we do believe that this is an important act of obedience that testifies of our identification with His death, burial and resurrection which is that which sanctifies every believer “once and for all” (Hebrews 10:10). Unlike the exclusivists and cults we must not demand that baptism is about our local church but we must constantly reinforce to every believer that it is about our obedience before our Lord.

Most Sincerely In Christ,

David T. Seaford