Where Is This Disunity Coming From?

When it comes to disunity in the church, the question is not if, but when. Churches are made up of imperfect people who will always find a way to have a difference of opinion. This perpetual problem forces thoughtful church leaders to ask the probing question, “Where is this disunity coming from?”

Sometimes the struggle comes from practical issues like building usage and spending money. The decisions made in real time about the day-to-day operations of a church can be very challenging. When a church is unclear about the direction of its ministries, its members are forced to take sides on a growing list of issues.

Culture can also play a part in church conflict. Maybe the demographics around the church have changed radically in recent years. Maybe there is a strong desire in the church to retain specific traditions. The bottom line is that the culture in and around the church can have a significant impact on congregational harmony.

But what should believers do if they can’t solve disunity issues through these avenues? In the 4th┬áchapter of James, we learn that sometimes the reason for disunity in the church is spiritual. In this passage, James lists 3 spiritual reasons for disunity in the early church. The first issue is a pattern of self-centered prayer that springs from a me-first mentality. The second issue is misplaced loyalty. The third issue is the unchecked arrogance that goes along with a works-based view of salvation. This false approach to salvation puts all the emphasis on what we can accomplish for God.

James helps us to see that sometimes disunity comes from a hidden source – the human heart. If the issue isn’t practical, theological, or cultural, it just might be coming from a spiritual source. This is something we all need to keep an eye on as we strive to serve the Lord together in unity.

Is There a Gap in Our Sanctification?

Is there a gap in our view of sanctification? Church Historian, Richard Loveless certainly through so and here’s why.

This post is the fourth in a series tracing the dynamics of spiritual renewal in the Church as outlined in Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal by Dr. Richard Lovelace. Exerpts in this post were taken from the chapter called “The Sanctification Gap.”

Is there a gap in our view of sanctification? Church Historian, Richard Loveless, certainly thought so. In his book, Dynamics of Spiritual Life, he wrote a very personal chapter about his conversion to Christ and his spiritual journey as a churchman and an academic. In his experience, Loveless found a distressing disconnect between the doctrines of regeneration and sanctification in the average Evangelical church. It’s been a few years since Loveless passed away, and even more since the last edition of his book, but the gap still seems to exist.

In Lovelace’s view, the sanctification gap appeared as a result of the correction and over-correction of the theological pendulum swing. The English Puritans felt like the Reformation had only been a “half-Reformation” so they placed too much of an emphasis on initial conversion and the doctrine of generation which pushed some into Hyper-Calvinism. This was corrected (overcorrection) in the nineteenth century by Charles Finney and others, who stressed easier standards and spontaneous commitment. This Arminian development produced a disconnect between spiritual transformation and spiritual growth in our current understanding.

I believe some progress has been made on this issue since Richard Loveless sounded the alarm. In the past 10 to 15 years, there has been an uptick in interest in discipleship, spiritual development, and spiritual growth programming in the church circles that I am a part of. This shift seems to be an acknowledgment of the gap in our soteriology. Another change has come on the winds of culture change. The disappearance of “Cultural Christianity” in America and the pandemic shutdown have forced church theologians and practitioners to reexamine the essentials of life in the church. This recalibration, if you will, has produced a stronger link between Christian beliefs and active participation in the church.

Even though the gap is not as wide as it once was, Loveless’s suggestions for closing the gap are still relevant. First, he suggested that we simply acknowledge that the gap exists. Second, he suggested that we forge a valid biblical model of spiritual life for Christians in our day. This includes, from Loveless’s perspective “true revival preaching” which penetrates defense mechanisms, uncovering hidden sin, and leading people to repentance. Third, he suggested reclaiming the explosive heritage of spiritual renewal that is connected to the Evangelical movement. These ongoing practices could help us make even more progress in closing the gap in our view of sanctification.

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Two Strategies for Structural Renewal in the Church.

What does it take to experience spiritual renewal and revival in the local church?

This post is the third in a series tracing the dynamics of spiritual renewal in the Church as outlined in Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal by Dr. Richard Lovelace.

What does it take to experience spiritual renewal and revival in a church? Richard Lovelace answered this question with his Model for Continous Renewal in the Church – the heart of his book, Dynamics of Spiritual Life. Lovelace’s model flows from a study of Church History and biblical precedents and includes primary and secondary elements. According to Lovelace, the primary elements of renewal are an in-depth understanding of the doctrines of justification, sanctification, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the authority believers possess in spiritual conflict. The secondary elements of renewal are the practical application of those doctrines in the church through mission, prayer, community, disenculturation (being freed from cultural blinders), and theological integration.

If you’ve read the two previous posts on this series, you’ll recognize the connection Lovelace wants us to make between the primary (doctrinal) elements and personal renewal in the church. This post is aimed at bringing out Lovelace’s connection between the secondary elements of renewal and revitalization in the local church structure. Of the five practical elements, Lovelace focuses most of his attention on community and prayer.

The biggest barrier to authentic community in the church, according to Lovelace, is overdependence on trained, professional clergy in the church. Pastors are expected to do all the ministry, while lay people (church members) look on passively. Without diminishing the role of pastors and ministers, churches would do well to encourage a mindset that every congregant is expected to serve in the church as a gifted part of the body.

The easiest pathway to building authentic community in the church, according to Lovelace, “is the formation and strengthening of nuclear subcommunities within the larger church community. The most basic subcommunity in the church is the home. In addition, Lovelace calls for the development of cell groups or support groups to provide encouragement and mutual pastoral oversight. This emphasis falls in line with our modern ministry of small groups.

Lovelace combines these two elements in suggesting that these subcommunities should be involved in a comprehensive prayer effort that is focused on spiritual renewal and revival. Corporate prayer should also be encouraged in special church-wide gatherings or as a special segment in the worship gathering.

Believers who want to experience spiritual renewal in their church, as well as in their personal life, would do well to pay attention to Lovelace’s secondary elements of renewal. The importance of community and prayer in the church cannot be overstated. Each church will certainly flesh these emphases out in its own way, but it’s hard to see how an individual church will find a resurgence without them. When combined with the previous elements mentioned, Lovelace’s Model for Continous Renewal is a very helpful pattern to follow.

Pastoral Counseling for Spiritual Renewal

Pastoral counseling is essential for experiencing spiritual renewal and revival in the church, but what does that look like?

This post is the second in a series tracing the dynamics of spiritual renewal in the Church as outlined in Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal by Dr. Richard Lovelace.

Pastoral counseling is essential for experiencing spiritual renewal and revival in the church, according to Dr. Richard Lovelace. In his book, Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal, he places pastoral counseling alongside preaching and teaching as necessary components of personal renewal, which is the precursor to corporate renewal in the church. As individuals are revived, so is the Church.

The kind of counseling that Lovelace recommends follows the historical examples of Richard Baxter and Philip Spener. Baxter augmented his preaching ministry with “house-to-house pastoral visistion” where he worked to apply God’s Word to the realtime spiritual needs of His congregation. A biblical president for this kind of ministry can be drawn from Acts 20:20, where Paul taught both in public and in the home.

Lovelace is skeptical of some counseling practitioners who follow the nouthetic approach. His first critique is their tendency to “write off all non-Christian psychological theory and practice as erroneous.” In addition, Lovelace believes that the nouthetic approach doesn’t take into account the serious nature of indwelling sin and therefore fails at delivering the necessary means of overcoming it. This is far from solving the ongoing debate about nature of Christian counseling in the church, but it helps to introduce a key set of doctrinal principles.

From Lovelace’s perserpective, spiritual renewal rests on four doctrines: justification, sanctification, the indwelling of Holy Spirit, and the authority of the believer in spiritual conflict. These “primary elements of renewal” must all be presented with equal force in context of a pastoral counseling conversation. Counselees should be encouraged to take hold of each of these four elements by faith as separate, but equal benefits of being united with Jesus Christ. They should find security in their adoptive sonship secured by Christ’s obedience and righteousness. They must also be committed to growing in their personal sanctification. Pastoral counselors also need to urge their audience to recognise and the presence and leading of the Holy Spirit as well as take hold of the strength they have in spiritual warfare.

Effective pastors will add personal counseling to the regular preaching and teaching of God’s Word if they want to stimulate spiritual renewal. They should look for ways to apply the truth of God’s Word to the individual situations and needs of their congregants. When these two practices are combined, they can be power and positive part of bringing spiritual renewal and revival to the Church.

Looking for the previous on Spiritual Renewal in the Church?

Find it here: https://wp.me/p1hRxR-Kv

Preaching and Teaching for Spiritual Renewal

What is the starting point for spiritual renewal and revival in the church?

This post is the first in a series tracing the dynamics of spiritual renewal in the Church as outlined in Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal by Dr. Richard Lovelace.

Spiritual renewal is another way of describing our biggest need in the Church – spiritual revival. Dr. Richard Lovelace made a name for himself tracing out the dynamics of spiritual renewal as a professor of Church History at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and as the author of Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal. In his book, he identifies preaching and teaching as the starting point for personal spiritual renewal in the life of the local church. As individuals are revived, so is the Church.

The kind of preaching and teaching that brings renewal encourages an intelligent response to the redemptive work of Jesus Christ and the empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit. According to Lovelace, the core doctrines of Christ’s redemptive work are justification and sanctification. Justification is God’s full and final forgiveness extended to all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. This state is based on God’s righteousness, not our own. The doctrine of justification leads, by necessity, to the doctrine of sanctification, which is the incremental progress believers make, empowered by the Holy Spirit, towards moral and spiritual maturity. In addition, sanctification means being set apart for God’s holy purposes. As believers are set apart, they should experience the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and a spiritual victory over their sins.

Lovelace summarizes these doctrines with the following statements: You are accepted, you are delivered, you are not alone, and you have authority. From his perspective, these are the themes that are overlooked in churches that struggle with spiritual apathy. Renewed and revived churches, on the other hand, feature preachers who are not afraid to bring these themes out of the pages of Scripture. Vibrant believers need frequent reminders of what it looks like to live in light of Christ’s work and the Holy Spirit’s presence. Vibrant believers are necessary for vibrant churches.

Effective preachers will explain, emphasize, illustrate, and apply God’s Word. Based on Lovelace’s advice, they should also look for ways to highlight these key doctrines. Those who are listening should look for reminders that they are accepted and delivered in Christ. They should take hold of the resources they have in moving toward maturity and victory. These expectations will make preaching and teaching a primary factor in our spiritual renewal.

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