This is a book about what the church should be, what it should do, and why it matters.
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About The Book
When God calls us out of our sin and to Himself through the Gospel, He adopts us into His family. That family is the church. This is a book about what that family should be, what it should do, and why it matters.
When we look carefully at the big things of the Bible, it’s important for us to examine both the Scriptures and the culture we live in today. We need to know what the Bible says. We also need to understand the ways we are getting things wrong, and the ways our cultural sins may be blinding us to see what God is calling us to in Scripture.
In this book, Pastor Tim Bayly exposes the lies the American evangelical church has believed and calls us to a simple, humble pattern of church that is clearly rooted in the Bible. It is a call to reform—a call to repent of the ways we have left God’s design for the church, and a call to embrace what we see modeled for us in the Bible and in those places in church history where our fathers in the faith have been careful to show us what the Bible teaches.
This is a book about what the church—God’s family—should be, what it should do, and why it matters.
Part 1 • First Things
1. Who Is the Church?
2. Baptism: How We Enter the Church
Part 2 • What Does the Church Do?
3. The Teaching of the Apostles
5. The Breaking of Bread
Part 3 • Threats Faced by the Church
9. Gathering Goats
Conclusion • Heaven on Earth
Around my hometown of Bloomington, Indiana, you’ll occasionally see a bumper sticker with a picture of a steepled church and the words “Love Your Mother.”
The bumper sticker was inspired by a conference on the Church we held several years ago. A young mother in our congregation designed it.
Christians love the Church. Paul writes in Ephesians that the Church is the Bride of Christ. Jesus loves the Church and gave Himself up for her. What He loves we must love. How could it be otherwise for those redeemed by His blood?
But sadly, today it is otherwise among many who claim to love Jesus.
Recently I visited a man who is dying. A lifelong student of Scripture, he knows the Bible inside out, yet he has forsaken the assembly of believers. Each Lord’s Day he sits at home while his wife joins God’s people in worship. This wasn’t the first time I visited a man close to death who knows God’s Word but refuses to worship with the people of God in a local church. Another man I knew dropped his wife off for worship each Sunday yet refused to enter himself.
How can a man love Jesus and not love His Bride?
Jesus commands us to love one another, yet how are we to understand “one another” if we repudiate and condemn our fellow Christians? How can we obey if we will not join ourselves to Christ’s Church?
Of course we all admit the difficulty of loving the Church. Isn’t that the point?
When I was young, my mother had an annoying habit of spitting on her Kleenex to clean food off my face.
Sometimes it’s hard to love your mother, yet God commands us to honor our father and mother. What honor does a mother deserve more than love? She carried us in her womb for nine months. She bathed, nursed, clothed, loved, kissed, taught, and disciplined us. What love!
So it is with the Church. She cares for God’s children in the same ways our earthly mothers care for us. Scripture names her “mother” and we are to love her.
But sadly, during the second half of the twentieth century, Western Christians left their Mother behind.
Leaving the Church Behind
In October 1985 my father began his twenty-fifth (and final) year as a columnist for a periodical for evangelicals called Eternity. His column that month was titled “The End of an Era” and summarized what his generation of evangelical leaders had received as a legacy and what they were leaving to their children.
Here are a few excerpts:
We inherited three or four small independent seminaries; we bequeath nine or ten healthy institutions that are the major source of trained evangelical leadership for America’s churches and parachurch movements.
We inherited one national youth movement—Christian Endeavor, working through the local church. . . . Parachurch youth organizations we founded include Youth for Christ, Young Life, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and Campus Crusade for Christ.
. . . we inherited denominational, church-centered programs for children, youth, and adults. We bequeath Child Evangelism Fellowship, Christian Service Brigade, Pioneer Ministries, Christian Business Men’s Committee, Bible Study Fellowship, Neighborhood Bible Studies, Christian Medical Society, Christian Legal Society, Nurses’ Christian Fellowship, and many other parachurch programs. . . .
We inherited Christians who were loyal to the church. . . . We bequeath Christians who are loyal to many religious organizations in addition to—sometimes in preference to—their church . . .
Through much of the twentieth century, evangelical Protestantism was the dominant religious force in North America. But, as my father noted, evangelicals did not commit their lives to building the Church. Rather, they poured their talents into founding parachurch missions, colleges, seminaries, youth ministries, camps, evangelistic crusades, radio stations, publishers, professional associations, and campus ministries.
Evangelicalism’s best and brightest did their work outside the church, and though they assumed this work fulfilled the Great Commission, no one stopped to ask why the church no longer mattered.
One of the legacies Evangelicalism has bequeathed to Christians today is a growing separation between becoming a Christian and becoming a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. Our evangelism has called men and women to trust God for the forgiveness of their sins and establish a personal relationship with Jesus. Then we encourage new believers to find a way to continue to grow.
Somehow, though, the Church is no longer viewed as essential to Christian growth. Conferences are great. Facebook groups, music, podcasts, broadcast sermons, discipleship material, Christian books . . . these fruits of evangelical ministry have supplanted Christ’s Bride, the Church.
And yet . . . where’s “one another” in listening to Christian radio, for example? If we don’t like the things the guy says, we just turn him off.
You can’t do that in your church’s small group. The same guy is rude to his wife week after week. The same woman belittles her husband. In worship the same teenagers roll their eyes when the pastor warns against sexual sin.
This is the Church. These sinful people are our “one another” and we learn to love and forgive them just as they love and forgive us. At least that’s how it’s supposed to be.
And yet . . . we’re tempted to think that—if hearing the Gospel and believing is what Christianity is all about—people come to faith more easily if they don’t have to deal with all the drama of the Church: infighting, hypocrisy, abuse of authority . . .
Many young, hip churches, having been schooled by the parachurch, now base themselves on a parachurch model, leaving behind the authority, accountability, and deep relationships among members that lie at the heart of Christ’s “one another.”
Some Christian men and women are becoming uneasy at this.
They wonder why their church is different from the New Testament church. What’s happened to the authority of pastors and elders? What’s happened to the authority of Scripture? Why is there so little prayer in our worship? Why don’t we read the Bible? Why are there no warnings before we take the Lord’s Supper?
Who’s keeping watch over my soul? Who’s watching over the souls of my children? Why doesn’t my pastor know me? Why doesn’t the pastor call me to repent? Why does our pastor seem indifferent to couples living together?
God’s people are noticing that churches no longer discipline anyone. They are growing uneasy about churches with no authority, no commands, no warnings, no admonitions, no membership, and therefore no excommunication.
No fear of God.
A Call to Return
This book is a call to return to our Mother and love her. Our love for Christ’s Bride should take precedence even over our love for our own families. Our children should know that the elders’ discipline of them is our discipline of them. From infancy, our sons should be convinced that their father and mother’s first love is Jesus and His body of believers.
The saying is, “Blood is thicker than water,” but it’s not. Rather, water—the water of baptism—is thicker than blood.
When Christ is our first love, His Bride will come before all of our earthly loves, including the love of husband for wife, father for son, mother for daughter, sister for brother, brother for sister. This is precisely what Jesus means when He warns,
If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.
“Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”
If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, likely you’ve listened to several wedding sermons in which pastors have used Christ’s love for the Church to exhort husbands and wives to love one another. But how often have our pastors used Christ’s love for the Church to command us to love the Church?
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.
Jesus is tender toward His Bride. He loves her. He gives Himself up for her. He sanctifies her. He presents her to Himself in all her glory, with no spot or wrinkle, but holy and blameless.
When Saul was on the road to Damascus intending to persecute the Church, Jesus knocked him to the ground and blinded him. Don’t miss the wording of His rebuke:
Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?
See that word “Me”? Like any husband who loves his wife, when Saul attacked His Bride, Jesus took it personally. An attack on the Church is an attack on Him. Why are we quick to affirm our love for Jesus, yet balk when someone calls us to love His Church?
You may respond that Jesus is perfect and the Church is anything but. Though this is true, the Church’s failures and sins are no reason to love her less. They haven’t caused Jesus to love her less. He just gets to work. Didn’t He say it was the sinners He came for—not the righteous?
Jesus loves the Church, and we should too.
Out of this confrontation on the road to Damascus, Saul, the persecutor of Christ’s Bride, was born again by the Spirit of God. He spent the rest of his life proving his love for the Church by suffering for her. And he didn’t resent his suffering. He didn’t write a book titled Churches That Abuse; rather, he considered suffering for Christ’s Bride a privilege:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church.
We don’t love the Church because she’s lovable (although she is, and we will come to this later). We love the Church because Jesus loved and gave Himself up for her.
Following His resurrection, our Lord showed the inseparable connection between love for Him and love for His Church. Peter, who had denied Jesus three times the night before Jesus died, was fishing with six other disciples when Jesus showed up and cooked them breakfast.
After eating, Jesus turned to Peter and asked,
“Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?”
He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Tend My lambs.”
He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”
He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.”
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”
Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”
Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.”
Jesus loves His sheep. He expects His servants to love them also. How can we claim to love Jesus while turning our noses up at the smell of His Flock?
If you have trouble loving the Church; if a church has failed you in the past and you refuse to love and give yourself to the Church now; if you talk contemptuously about “the institutional church”; if you refuse to become a church member; if you say you won’t join any church because you submit to Jesus alone; if you attend a megachurch where you’re neither known nor loved; if you attend a church where the pastor gives a lecture and knows no more about you than your dental hygienist does; then don’t lie to yourself. You don’t love the Church any more than a wife who, hurt by her husband, spends the rest of her life refusing intimacy with him.
When we turn from intimacy with the Church, we must realize our Lord Himself has not done so. Will you repent and begin to give yourself to the Church?
When I was a child, one of the most obvious things to us children was Mud and Dad’s love for the Church. For more than twenty years Dad taught our local church’s main adult Sunday school class, and his teaching was no performance; he probed his class members with tough questions about the Bible passage. He had little patience for pro forma answers. The affection of class members for one another was obvious. Members sang, shared (sometimes heartbreaking) prayer requests, and hung around afterwards talking with Mud and Dad and one another.
Mud and Dad often closed the church down Sunday mornings after worship, talking and helping bear the burdens of others on the steps outside the church building long after the senior pastor had gone home for dinner.
Our home was open. Missionaries, pastors, writers, parachurch leaders, children alienated from parents, older singles from our church—all were welcome in our home and at our table. Hospitality is love in action and we grew up helping by setting the table, clearing the table, washing the dishes, and cleaning the kitchen afterwards while the adults talked.
Mud and Dad were supportive of their pastors. When we lived in Philadelphia, our pastor had a heart attack and Dad filled in without pay, preaching and providing pastoral care until he was cleared to return. Mud and Dad were listening ears and wise counselors to their longtime pastor and his wife in Wheaton, encouraging and comforting them in the midst of their hurts and disappointments.
My wife Mary Lee and I have tried to carry on this love for the Church we saw demonstrated in our childhood homes. Has it been a one-way street, we give and the Church takes?
Absolutely not. All our lives the Church has loved, admonished, rebuked, and comforted us and our children. She continues to do so to this day. When we are gone from our congregation, we miss her. And when we return, we hear again and again that she missed us. Sure, our congregation gets along fine without us, but living in love together, we are missed.
As I said, today many Christians long for a return to real intimacy and authority within the Church. A return to real love and one-another-ing.
But what does this look like? What is the connection between faith, salvation, and the Church? What is the relationship of the Christian to the Church? How does a Christian become a member of the Church? Why should a Christian become a member of the Church?
What is the Church? Who is the Church? What are the sacraments and are they important? What does the Church do, and why?
Most of us think we don’t need the church in order to have “a personal relationship with Jesus.” Still, we’re quick to admit it strengthens us to spend a little time each weekend with other people who love Jesus like we do. It gives us a spiritual vibe.
This is not what Scripture says about our relationship to the Church. God calls us out from the world and places every last one of us at the bosom of His Bride to be nursed and cleaned and instructed and disciplined until we put off this mortal flesh.
About the author.
Tim Bayly was ordained as a pastor in 1983. Since 1996, he has served as senior pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Bloomington, Indiana. He is the author of Daddy Tried and co-author of The Grace of Shame. Tim and his wife Mary Lee have five children and twenty-some grandchildren.
The Grace of Shame
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