Celebrating the New Life of Believers Baptism

Cornerstone Church at Lee Scott Baptism Celebration Event

We had our second large outdoor baptism celebration last Sunday, and it was an amazing time to see new life rise up. Scripture has a lot to say about believers baptism, the most common probably being Matthew 28:29-30, but this isn’t our only call to baptism, and it isn’t our only example of people stepping out in faith to be baptized. One of my favorite baptism stories in Scripture comes from Acts 8:26-40 when Phillip is explaining a passage from Isaiah 53:7-8 to the eunuch. Phillip “told him the good news about Jesus” and the eunuch’s response was an exclamation point, one where you can almost see him jumping up and down with joy saying:

See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized? (Acts 8.26)

This shows the joy of following the commands of Jesus in baptism, not as a salvation sacrament, but as a step of public faith in the death and resurrection of Christ that we now share (Romans 6:3-6). That is the joy to participate in the baptism of Christ, and it shows when you look at these faces from our celebration below. I love the expressions on their faces, the joy of Christ radiates through their experience. Each time I watch people raised up into a new life in Christ I recall my own baptism with Deborah in Birmingham, it was one of those events in my life I will not forget, and I’m guessing these folks won’t either.

The full set of images from the day will be posted on our Flickr page soon and I am going to upload several more to my Facebook gallery soon.

What is the Church? 10 Things the Bible Says About the Church

Cornerstone Church at Lee-Scott Open Air Worship Service

Cornerstone Church at Lee-Scott Open Air Worship Service

Over the past several years of seminary work I have had the privilege of studying the church. There are a lot of different answers to that question (just look how many different churches there are in this country). Yesterday was our first open-air outdoor worship service at our Cornerstone Lee-Scott site. Not because we all wanted to sit in the sun and fry, but because they were refinishing the hard wood floors in the basketball gym where we worship, but it ended up being a fantastic service, and a great reminder to all of us what exactly we mean when we say we are “going to church.” Today our churches can be places that become so internalized with our own events and “church life” we don’t even realize we have stopped living out Matthew 28:16-20. So yesterday, as we sat out in the heat, we got a good reminder that church is not a building, or a gym, or a place to “go,” but a people we serve with.

I think those in my generation and older are still quite set that we “go to church” at a church building, and that was just never the case with the New Testament Church. Our site pastor, Josh Agerton, gave a very appropriate message on this very topic, to discuss what misconceptions we bring to the word “ekklesia.” This word, ekklesia, meaning local church, was established by Christ Himself (Matt. 16:18), and then we see it in action for the first time in Acts 1:12 when Matthias was chosen to replace Judas.

I love that our particular church is willing to do things like worship in a gym, or outside on a hot day, to better reach our community for Christ. Our culture today tends to the Bible with tradition, and personal preference, to create these glorious buildings we can go hide in from cradle to grave in some cases. Clearly, God’s plan is that born again Christians be a part of a local church. Nowhere in the New Testament, after the institution of the local church was established, do you find believers serving God outside the authority or rule of the local church.

So what are a few things the bible says about the church? This top ten list below is no where near a complete and total list, nor is it compiled into any specific symmetry, but it does show what the Bible says about the Church. Notice there are a TON of things the Bible doesn’t say the church should that we have made it out to be (but that is a whole different post).

10 Things the Bible Says About the Church

  1. The Bible is the Sole Authority
    There is no only authority for the New Testament church other than that of Scripture for the faith and practice of a True New Testament Church. (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21; John 5:39 and many others).
  2. Believers are Instructed Not to Forsake Meeting Together
    If a believer is not part of a local church, whatever form that takes today, is in disobedience to God’s word. Scripture clearly teaches we are to meet or “assemble” with each other periodically. When the church meets, we should be there to support it (Hebrews 10:24-25).
  3. Believers are to be Under the Leadership of the Pastor and Church
    This is so difficult for us today, especially in the U.S.A. where we are told we are our own authority in everything we do. We are supposed submit to the authority of the church, and be lead by it’s leadership (Acts 20:28; 13:2).
  4. The New Testament Church is Only Made Up of Saved Individuals
    This is clearly indicated in Scripture as well. The church body is not made up of secular people as with any other civil club, members are believers, that’s it (Acts 2:41, 47).
  5. The New Testament Church Has Only Two Ordinances
    The Lord’s Supper and Baptism, which are not sacraments, are the only two ordinances called for in Scripture (Acts 2:41-42). We have a lot of other traditions and things that take place in the church, but these are the only two ordinances Scriptures calls for.
  6. All Believers are Placed in the Local Church upon their Baptism (Acts 1:15; 2:47)
  7. Believers are to Learn Doctrine in the Local Church
    For those of us who love to learn Scripture, here we go, but our culture today is moving more and more towards an anti-intellectualism, which is no more Biblical than forsaking the widows and orphans. This also means the local church is supposed to TEACH doctrine as well (Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Corinthians 12;  2 Timothy 4:1-4; Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 5:25; Acts 20:28).
  8. A Believer’s Responsibility to Missions as part of a Local Church
    A believer ought to be a part of supporting missions through their local church. The clear New Testament example is that it was the local church which sent forth missionaries. No church has the authority to delegate this responsibility to anyone else which would include mission boards, conventions, or any agency outside the local congregation (Acts 15:3, 20:38, 21:5, Rom. 15:24, 1 Cor. 16:6,11, 2 Cor. 1:16, Titus 3:13, 3 John 6).
  9. If One Member Suffers All Suffer With Them
    The local church is the support center of people to surround the believer in good times and in bad (1 Corinthians 12:26).
  10. Believers are Given the Responsibility and Privilege of Supporting the Local Church Financially
    There are probably more ways to get out of this than there are ways to count, but Scripture clearly says we are to financially support our local church, and it says this clearly and unequivocally that we are to give money to our local church, even Abraham did this. (1 Cor. 16:1-2, 2 Cor. 8-9)
On a practical level, what is the church? These shots below are just a very few examples of where our church assembled for fellowship yesterday. But this location at Lee-Scott Academy is not where the church is, the church is dispersed all throughout our city and county, this is just where we met yesterday.

Cornerstone Baptism Celebration Event in Auburn :: Photos

Baptism Celebration at Cornerstone Church in Auburn

Last Sunday we (Cornerstone Church) had our first large Baptism Celebration event where about 35 people were baptized, including a whole group of young confirmands. To me at least, this was an incredible event in the life of this little church in Auburn. Baptism should be a celebration, a time of renewing and commitment to the Lord, but sometimes the Christian Church body makes this such a solemn, if not somber event in a believers life when it should be one of excitement and joy.

For some reason, that afternoon in my mind, the story of Phillip and the Eunuch kept coming to my mind. This story told in the book of Acts (Acts 8:26-40) has a tone of excitement and joy. The Eunuch was so excited to be baptized that he made Phillip baptize him in the first bit of water he saw. I can just see this Eunuch, reading the book of Isaiah one minute, and the next just jumping up and down pointing at the water pleading with Phillip to be baptized.

And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.

So, last Sunday, we as a church, baptized a group of people with two horse troughs side by side. Before they went under we all worshiped with the band leading, and afterwards we all ate hotdogs and hamburgers and had some time to just fellowship with one another.  The photos below are a small representative of the evening. I will have some posted to the Flickr photo stream shortly, and will upload a set to the Church’s Facebook page or go to straight to the Baptism Celebration Album on Facebook. I love the expressions on their faces when they come up out of the water, proclaiming a new life in Christ.

The Priority of the Church isn’t the Alter Call

Over the last several years I have been asked to answer, from many different perspectives, “What is the purpose/priority of the church” and “What makes a true disciple?” (this post is the first question). Most of the time the answer to this question comes from what our culture says, and not from what Scripture says, but it’s not all that hard to answer the question properly from Scripture.

To answer that, this post is filled with two-by-two’s. There are two questions posed to answer the question about the church, two photos representative of the answer. The text standing for a formal seminary conclusion, and the photos representing a tangible aspect of that answer. I love the photo above, at least to me, this is the result of the work of the church, that is, the love of Christ, sent.

Which habits of the early church are still practiced today?

We read about the earliest formation of the church, and what they consistently practiced, in the first few chapters of the book of Acts, specifically in Acts 2.42-47. This is one of the first summaries given to us in the book of Acts.  As a summary, they were first and foremost devoted to the Apostles teachings (Scripture), fellowship (Gk. koinonia or participation and sharing), breaking of break (the Lord’s Supper and larger fellowship meals), and prayer (in houses and the temple). These would be the priorities practiced in the earliest church body. In addition to those, verses 45-47 give us a little more detail as they were selling their possessions, attending to the temple, and praising God.

One difference between the church in Acts 2 and the church as it proceeded through history is how many times it has now fractured into another set of beliefs or understandings (denominations), yet still being a part of the same body of believers. In Acts, they were said to have been “together, and had all things in common” (Acts 2.44), but it didn’t take long before differences started to tug at the church. This can be see as early as Peter in Acts 10, but today we almost have to define the church first since some churches seem to not have any understanding of Acts 2, let along put any of these items into practice. With that understanding, a true body of believers will still consistently practice all the items in Acts 2. Most churches who hold Scripture as inerrant will be consistently devoted to the Word (the Apostles teaching), fellowship, the Lord’s Supper, prayer, the church building itself, and to small groups (meeting at the home). If there was one among the list in Acts 2.42-47 that is most neglected today it would probably be “selling their possessions” and making sure the brethren lack for nothing. This is more of a nationalistic thing today (meaning it’s different in each country), and in the U.S. the church has given way to the government as the “helper” of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

Is the priority of the church to engage the laity in ministry and witness?

The priority of the church must be the summary outlined in Acts 2.42. This is what the earliest tradition stated, which was founded on the immediate resurrection and ascension of Christ who put this summary in place. Therefore, the priority of the church should be (1) being devoted to Scripture, (2) fellowship, (3) breaking bread, and (4) prayer. In short, this means the church is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry for building up the body of Christ” until we reach maturity in faith (Ephesians 4.12-13). The question above combines two pieces (ministry and witness) that the author of Ephesians doesn’t necessarily make in 4.12-13, though the importance of being a witness for Christ is made in other areas of Scripture. In this context, the priority of the church, as seen in Acts 2 and Ephesians 4, is to use the spiritual gifts given to the saints, to build up the saints, so they can then go out beyond the church and become effective witnesses.

In essence, that means the church is not necessarily here to bring in scores of the unsaved and the faithless so as to then convert them from within the church. The equipped saints are to be working as witnesses, and then bringing in those who have responded to the call of Christ in their life.  This practice of alter-calling has been a long-standing use of the church, but it shouldn’t necessarily be the priority if the church is to follow the example given to us by the book of Acts. The best way to do this would be to discover, develop, and use the spiritual gifts given to us as listed in Ephesians 4.11; Romans 12.6-8; 1 Corinthians 12.7-10, 28-30; and 1 Peter 4.8-10.[1]

The last set of two in this post are the actual photos themselves. The photo above is the church, in fellowship and worship, and the photo at the top is the result of that love.

[1] Darrell W. Robinson, Total Church Life: How to be a First Century Church in a 21st Century World (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishers, 1997), 108.

Why is the Church Supporting Victoryland Casino in Shorter, AL?

This is not intended to be a anoscottfillmer.mer pious rail against gambling from one more judgmental Christian that seemingly has lost touch with scottfillmer.me reality of scottfillmer.me world, I just simply want to ask scottfillmer.me question, “why is scottfillmer.me church body sanctioning, supporting, and ultimately using (in some form or anoscottfillmer.mer) money given to God, by means of tiscottfillmer.me or gifts, given through a servant of a willful heart (2 Corinthians 9:7), to furscottfillmer.mer scottfillmer.me cause(s) of Victoryland Casino in Shorter Alabama?  An even better question might be, why if your church does not support Victoryland, does it still continue to use Bingo (or oscottfillmer.mer vainly disguised) “fund raising” techniques like yard sales and scottfillmer.me such, but I will save that for anoscottfillmer.mer day.

Yesterday scottfillmer.me Alabama Supreme Court overruled a Macon County circuit judge’s ruling that blocked Governor Riley’s attempt to raid Victoryland Casino in Shorter, AL (see scottfillmer.me full court ruling Order of Protectiong Thrown Out July, 30 2010 and news articles here).  Alabama has traditionally fought gambling of all kinds, and is still one of scottfillmer.me last hold out states in scottfillmer.me lottery business, but when I read scottfillmer.me al.com report’s comments, it just screamed out to me, why are churches supporting Victoryland?  It isn’t like Victoryland is reciprocating and supporting scottfillmer.me local church (yes, scottfillmer.mey did give a whopping 1% to “charity” of some sort).  A quick read of scottfillmer.me comments by believeinlord in al.com’s press release shows what is probably one church of many, that takes [chartered?] church bus trips to Victoryland Casino.

This of course brings an enormous host of questions to mind when this person makes scottfillmer.me casual comment “I’ve def won my fair share. We go togescottfillmer.mer twice a month with my church group.”  Of course “scottfillmer.meir fair share” we know statistically means scottfillmer.mey have spent a whole lot more money than scottfillmer.mey actually understand (or justify it by calling it scottfillmer.me price of having a good time).  scottfillmer.me conversation goes on in anoscottfillmer.mer article talking about how “bingo has provided money [albeit 1%, yes only ONE PERCENT] to my church when we desperately needed a new van to take our elderly parishioners to scottfillmer.meir dr visits?”

So, apparently, at least in one case, this church (in Birmingham, AL) is, at minimum, neglecting it’s members, and in “desperate need” of transportation for scottfillmer.meir elders.  Yet twice a month scottfillmer.mey trek down to Shorter with scottfillmer.meir church group? Huh? Seriously?  It is hard to write this post without sounding judgmental but if this group was a “small group” size of say, 20 people, taking 24 trips a year, spending (loosing) who knows how much, is this not enough to completely pay for such a van?

How much is this multiplied across scottfillmer.me church body?  Hard to tell.  Most (out of embarrassment or in hopes of keeping scottfillmer.meir vice quiet), do not directly publicize scottfillmer.meir casino trips to scottfillmer.me general public, but all you have to do is spend a little bit of time in today’s church to know that charter bus trips to Biloxi and Tunica are scottfillmer.me norm with many churches.  Even if no church funds are used, is this scottfillmer.me association you want people to make with your church?  Today, maybe so, but I don’t find anywhere in scripture where it is scottfillmer.me church’s job to support scottfillmer.me local community via established casinos.  I wonder if Jud Wilhite’sCentral Church in Henderson, NV sends scottfillmer.meir small groups to scottfillmer.me Bellagio for game night on Tuesday’s?

If you think I am trying to say here that Victoryland, all casinos, and all gambling should end at once, you are missing scottfillmer.me point.  My wife and I enjoyed living in Las Vegas for a while, so this doesn’t come from some country hick who never left scottfillmer.me back woods of south Alabama. Still, it is one thing to take a private trip with friends or family to a place that has or allows gambling, it is totally different for scottfillmer.me church body to sanction such an event.

Don’t scream hypocrite yet, after all, scottfillmer.me disciples even casted lots to confirm Matthias as scottfillmer.me eleventh disciples in Acts 1:26. scottfillmer.men again, that wasn’t actually gambling, scottfillmer.me fate of that cast was already decided by God, it wasn’t an outcome decided by chance.  scottfillmer.me point here isn’t whescottfillmer.mer individuals should or should not gamble.  scottfillmer.me point I am attempting to make is that supporting Victoryland is NOT what scottfillmer.me church body was called to do, is it?

Are we so bored with scottfillmer.me business of being God’s church that this is scottfillmer.me best thing we can find to do with our time and money, as a church?  In scottfillmer.me world today, we scottfillmer.me church have so much invested in our retirement packages, our homes, cars, electronics, can we now only give to God out of our leftovers? Are we once again living in paneled houses, while God’s house remains a ruin (Haggai 1:4)?