Most churches have moved away from the New Testament pattern, beginning with hastiness in evangelism, carelessness in receiving members, and a weakness in maintaining spiritual standards and exercising discipline, and as a result they are falling prey to all sorts of errors and moving into an increasingly weaker and softer stance.
Following are some suggestions for moving a mixed multitude congregation to a discipling church position:
Be Ready to Engage in a Difficult Battle
Be Confident of God’s Help
Prepare the Church by Prayer
Prepare the Church by Teaching
Develop a Plan for Maintaining a Regenerate Church Membership
Focus on Those Who Are Real Disciples
Reconstitute the Church around a Strong Covenant
Double Down on Evangelism
Aim to Incorporate all the Biblical Elements of a Discipling Church
A church doesn’t become a mixed multitude overnight and it won’t be brought overnight to a New Testament pattern. Impatience can cause more harm than good. The goal is not to harm the church and scatter the sheep; the goal is to strengthen it.
Formulate a clear plan before the Lord and then patiently and steadfastly work toward its implementation. It will be a multi-year plan, not a plan for a few weeks or months.
Be Ready to Enter a Difficult Battle
There is no easy way to change a mixed multitude to a discipling church. The elements of the world, the flesh, and the devil that have become entrenched in the congregation are not going to like it. There are going to be battles.
A pastor must be convinced that a discipling church is what pleases God, and no other type of church pleases Him. He must be 100% committed to doing those things that are necessary to make this happen, because he loves and fears God more than man, and he knows that he will give account to God, and not to man, for his ministry.
In 1962, James Leo Garrett, Jr., called upon Baptist churches to restore discipline, and he acknowledged that it would be a difficult job. He said,
“Those who would lead in the renewal of discipline must be thoroughly convinced of its terrible urgency” (Garrett, Baptist Church Discipline).
Be Confident of God’s Help
The Lord has given the pattern of the New Testament church in His Word. This is the only type of church that pleases Him. If His people acknowledge their sin of corrupting or weakening this pattern and seek His help in restoring the church to His will, this impulsion is from God’s Spirit. It is certain that such a desire does not come from the world, the flesh, or the devil.
God is ready to help those who want to obey Him, not matter how weak and backslidden the situation might be. When Christ called Ephesus to repent of losing their first love (Re. 2:4-5) and Pergamos to repent of false doctrine (Re. 2:14-16) and Thyatira to repent of worldliness (Re. 2:20) and Sardis to repent of spiritual deadness (Re. 3:1-3) and Laodicea to repent of lukewarmness (Re. 2:15-18), He stood ready to help them in that business. And if God be with us, who can be against us?
Prepare the Church by Prayer
Prayer is the most powerful spiritual instrument we have, and scriptural prayer will bring God’s help into any situation. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (Jas. 5:16).
To pray in faith is to pray according to God’s will as revealed in Scripture (1 John 5:14). Since we know it is God’s will that the church be a discipling church with a regenerate membership, the Lord’s people can pray with confidence that God will bring this to pass.
The pastor should ask for prayer partners among his friends. This is what Paul did continually. Compare Ro. 15:30-32; Eph. 6:19; Php. 1:19; Col. 4:3-4; 1 Th. 5:25; 2 Th. 3:1; Phm. 22; Heb. 13:18-19.
He should call for special prayer meetings in which the sin of a mixed multitude can be confessed and God’s help can be sought. If only a few show up for these prayer meetings, then it should be recognized that this remnant is the true spiritual core of the church. God can answer two or three as well as fifty (Mt. 18:20).
Prepare the Church by Teaching
The early chapters of The Discipling Church can be used for this. These are “A Discipling Church or a Mixed Multitude,” “The Disappearance of Discipling Churches,” “A Discipling Church Begins with Caution about Salvation,” and “A Discipling Church Guards the Door to Membership.”
The first lessons in the One Year Discipleship Course could also provide teaching toward moving the church away from a mixed multitude. These lessons cover repentance, saving faith, the gospel, baptism, eternal security, position and practice, the Law and the New Testament Christian, Christian growth and spiritual victory, and the Church.
Develop a Plan for a Regenerate Church Membership
The foundation for a New Testament discipling church is a regenerate church membership.
Look for a conversion experience with evidence in the thinking and in the life. We have covered the biblical evidences in “A Discipling Church Begins with Caution about Salvation.” There is not one example in the New Testament of someone who got saved but who did not exhibit clear evidence thereof, and that is what we look for. It’s what we need to look for in children, in young people, and in older people.
Be particularly careful about receiving children and young people.
Establish a membership class so that every potential baptismal and membership candidate can be prepared with basic instruction. This gives further opportunity to ascertain if the individual is truly saved. The membership class should include teaching on repentance, saving faith, the gospel, baptism, and the church. The church covenant should also be taught and any questions answered. We assign a mature member to go through the membership class with a candidate.
The candidate should be required to agree with the covenant 100%. And this should not be mere lip service. It should be evident to the leaders that the individual truly understands and agrees with the church’s stance from the heart. For example, a family has been attending our church for three years. They were saved many years ago, but this is the first time they have been in a serious New Testament. The man has worked with ecumenical organizations, and only since attending our church has begun to see the error of ecumenism. It has been a gradual process with him. They are very friendly; they are educated, upper class people; they are givers; and it would be easy to receive them as members. We long to do that. Every time we take the Lord’s Supper, I think about this family and the fact that they can’t partake. But I do not want a man in the church who does not agree fully with our stance on separation and who might become a weakening influence later on. I have done everything I can to educate him. I had him read my book New Evangelicalism: Its History, Error, and Fruit, and I even prepared an extensive set of review questions to help him and his wife go through the book and understand the main points. Another thing he has had to commit to is being faithful to the services and not putting his business before the Lord’s business. Again, this has been a learning, growing process with him. He has recently started getting off work early on Wednesday so he can attend prayer meetings. I believe that soon we will be able to receive this couple. The goal is simply that all of the members of the church be faithful as God says they should be and that we will have one mind as described in 1 Corinthians 1:10.
Candidates for baptism should be carefully interviewed by the church leaders (and their wives if the candidates are female). The candidate should receive a unanimous vote by the church leaders. The candidate is then presented to the church with the recommendation of the leaders that he or she be received for baptism and/or membership. The individual is then received by a church vote.
See the chapter “A Discipling Church Guards the Door to Church Membership.”
Establish an inactive membership program. This is discussed in the chapter “A Discipling Church Has a Disciplined Environment.”
Focus on Those Who Are Real Disciples
If a church has been established on a mixed multitude philosophy, it will have a lot of members who are not real disciples of Christ according to Christ’s definition in John 8:31 and 10:27.
Our suggestion to pastors who are trying to change the character of an older church is to focus most of your attention on those who are disciples.
We want all of the people to come along and to press on higher ground, and we should do everything we can toward that end, but oftentimes this doesn’t happen. Those who are “settled on their lees” (Jer. 48:11; Zep. 1:12) tend to remain where they are spiritually. They have heard a lot of preaching and teaching, but they haven’t responded and haven’t obeyed, and this is evidence of a frightful spiritual condition, as Christ said:
“He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God” (John 8:47).
Of the rebel, there comes a time when God says, “Let him alone” (Hos. 4:17). See also Matthew 15:14.
The pastor who wants to make an older church a discipling church must keep his focus on those who truly love the Lord and want to obey Him. He must work with them to make them stronger and educate them well in the direction the Lord is leading him, so he will have a core of people who support his vision for the future.
Reconstitute the Church Around a Strong Covenant
It might be best to reconstitute the church around a strong covenant.
We have included a sample covenant in this book.
The covenant should include requirements of membership, standards for leaders and workers, the Lord’s Supper, the process of discipline, and the church’s statement of faith.
“Examples of the covenants of other churches may be consulted, but churches would do well to personalize and individualize their covenant so that the congregation as a whole owns it as their covenant, not one imposed upon them. Then, when the church has developed a covenant that expresses their commitment to one another and to Christ as his church, the church would vote to dissolve the present membership and reconstitute around those who sign their names to the church covenant. This would be preceded by several announcements of the proposed signing day. I would even encourage the pastor to send a letter to every member of the congregation with the proposed covenant and the decision of the church to reconstitute around it.
“There is a biblical precedent for such action in Nehemiah 9-10. After a time of renewal and confession in Nehemiah 8-9, Nehemiah records the decision of God’s people: ‘We are making a binding agreement, putting it in writing, and our leaders, our Levites and our priests are affixing their seals to it" (9:38). After listing all the leaders by name, the text states that the rest of the people joined with them (10:28-29). Their ‘binding agreement,’ or covenant, specified the areas of their lives that needed specific commitments. In that context, the key issues were avoiding intermarriage with the surrounding pagans, conducting no business on the Sabbath, and supporting the temple worship (10:30-39).
“Contemporary covenants would list the areas of commitment contemporary churches see as central to their life together. The people in Nehemiah's day concluded with a summary statement of their commitment, ‘We will not neglect the house of our God.’ Adopting a church covenant is one way God’s people today can say, ‘We will not neglect our church.’
“This biblical example gives a beautiful model for contemporary church covenants. The covenant would be their ‘binding agreement,’ specifying areas of their commitment to Christ and one another. At the conclusion of a service celebrating the adoption of the covenant, the church leadership could be invited to come and sign their names to a roster attached to the church covenant. Then all who are willing to accept the covenant responsibilities would be invited to come and sign. The same document and roster would be taken to shut-in members who are not able to come but are still committed to the church. Those who sign would become the church's membership. Part of the process for adding subsequent members would involve the signing of the covenant, and existing members would be asked to sign their commitment afresh every year. It could become an annual church renewal event” (Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches, Kindle loc. 331).
Double Down on Evangelism
As we have already said, a mixed multitude church is not going to be changed overnight. If a church has been hasty in proclaiming people saved and careless in receiving members, this will usually be reflected in a low level of spiritual life. Unsaved and carnal people do not respond readily to the type of preaching that will increase the spiritual level of the congregation.
What such a church needs is new members, new life. A pastor who is trying to move a church beyond a mixed multitude condition should give a lot of attention to evangelism, while also being very careful about baptism and receiving members.
One pastor friend talks about putting out a lot of fishing lines. The more hooks you have in the water, the more likely it is that you will catch fish. Evangelistic fishing lines are things like the following:
* An aggressive, well planned “door knocking” program to reach one’s entire area
* An effective tract distribution program (obtaining quality tracts, keeping them in stock, teaching the people how to use them, exhorting them to use them)
* Preaching on the streets and in market places
* Using the church’s web site for evangelism (gospel material, apologetics material,
* Gospel Bible studies in homes
* Gospel ministries to nursing homes, schools, truck stops, prisons, etc.
The evangelism course Sowing and Reaping and the book Ideas for Evangelism have many practical tips on how to double down on evangelism. These are available from Way of Life Literature.
Aim to Incorporate All of the Biblical Elements of a Discipling Church
We have dealt with many of these things in this book: right leadership, a disciplined environment, an environment strong in God’s Word, prayer, reproof, standards for workers, education, an atmosphere of charity, building godly homes, discipling youth, biblical separation, caution about music, zeal for evangelism and world missions.
The above is excerpted from THE DISCIPLING CHURCH: THE CHURCH THAT WILL STAND UNTIL CHRIST COMES. ISBN 978-1-58318-227-7. New for March 2017. This church manual aims to establish churches on a solid biblical foundation of a regenerate church membership, one mind in doctrine and practice, serious discipleship, thorough-going discipline, and a large vision for world evangelism. We examine the New Testament pattern of a discipling church, and we trace the history of Baptist churches over the past 200 years to document the apostasy away from the biblical pattern to a mixed multitude philosophy. We also document the history of “sinner’s prayer” evangelism which has affected the reality of a regenerate church membership. The book deals with biblical salvation with evidence, care in receiving church members, the church’s essential first love for Christ, the right kind of church leaders, the right kind of preaching, training church members to be Bible students, the many facets of church discipline, building strong families, youth ministry, training preachers, charity, reproof, educating the church for spiritual protection, maintaining standards for workers, the church’s prayer life, the church’s separation, spiritual revival, the church’s music, and many other things. The last chapter documents some of the cultural factors that have weakened churches over the past 100 years, including the theological liberalism, public school system, materialism and working mothers, the rock & roll pop culture, pop psychology, the feminist movement, New Evangelicalism, television, and the Internet. There is also a list of recommended materials for a discipling church. Dr. Don Jasmin, editor of The Fundamentalist Digest, says, “The book The Discipling Church is well named. It is loaded with Scriptural exposition, Scriptural explanation, and Scriptural edification. This spiritually rich volume covers almost every phase of a genuine Biblically discipling church. Every pastor should procure this spiritually enriching treasury, one which a preacher will readily consult for valuable assistance and counsel in seeking to maintain a Scripturally balanced N. T. ministry.”
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