Dr. Sinclair Ferguson rightly identifies how ‘play actors’ inhibit the power of the Gospel….
As Midway Presbyterian Church continues through an exposition of the Book of Acts at its morning service, perhaps some self-reflection as a church is in order. In his own exposition on Acts, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson described the manner in which the Scripture characterizes the early church, in particular their unity of fellowship, saying:
“…There is a third evidence of this great grace that was upon them [the early church]: The unity of their fellowship, the generosity within the fellowship, and also the power of the testimony of the fellowship to the world. Look at verse 33, it’s in this context, and there is a clear connection here, notice, between verse 32 and verse 33. Verse 32 describes the fellowship of the church, and verse 33 describes the great power that was on the preaching of the apostles.
The preaching of the Gospel often lacks power because those who hear it see no illustration of what the Gospel means in flesh and blood terms. The reason in a living Christian church…that the Gospel comes with power, is because in such a fellowship, people who come into it see what is spoken illustrated in what is lived!…. they preached the resurrection of Jesus Christ and you only needed to come into this community to see the difference that the resurrection of Jesus Christ made.”Acts 4:32 – 5:11 Dr. Sinclair Ferguson – http://tapesfromscotland.org/Audio3/3588.mp3
Dr. Ferguson identifies a key element in the Holy Spirit attracting people to Christ’s church – the Gospel is preached with power from a church that is united in fellowship and generosity. Further, it is the testimony of this unity and fellowship that is a light to the dark world. Midway member, do you long to see this sort of beautiful God-given fellowship return to your church? Do you see what is spoken illustrated in how the church leaders treat one another? Or do they relentlessly pursue one another with a litigious spirit? Has Midway lost the “connection” referred to by Dr. Ferguson?
If you think so, read on, as Dr. Ferguson also identifies the root cause. He warns one of the greatest dangers to the “Church’s testimony to Jesus Christ” is what “Jesus Himself so often called ‘play actors’, ‘hypocrites’”. Referring to the hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira, and their subsequent judgment, Dr. Ferguson warns:
“…and because the integrity of the church, and in a sense the future of the church, was at stake, God came down in awesome judgment to make it plain that He was committed to having a church that was in turn committed to absolute holiness, to total devotion, to exposing hypocrisy, and living entirely, unreservedly, for Jesus Christ. And so when God came in grace, and then came in judgement, ‘great fear seized the whole church.’
The apostle Paul hints you remember in the communion passage in I Corinthians 11, that far less dramatically, but no less really, that that still continues to happen. He says there is sin in the church, and this is why some of you are sick, some of you ill, and some have died. The holy judgment of God is upon his people because as Peter says, God’s holy judgment must begin with his own family. And you see the extraordinary result of this. It’s really difficult to take in, verse 11, ‘great fear seized the whole church’, verse 13, ‘no one else dared join them’. Now! We mustn’t become a church like that, surely! Do you want to become a church where no one else dares to join?”Acts 4:32 – 5:11 Dr. Sinclair Ferguson – http://tapesfromscotland.org/Audio3/3588.mp3
Could Midway become a church where no one else dare join because the hypocrisy is too apparent? Does a visitor at Midway come into the community to see the difference that the resurrection of Jesus Christ made? Or do they see a struggle for pastoral power by authority seekers?
It should be a sobering thought to consider the very real consequences that may befall a church that is in such sin. This is why Presbyterian forefathers constructed a Biblical system whereby church members promise to “support the Church in its worship and work” to the best of their ability and “promise to study its purity and peace”. This means every communing member has a responsibility to hold their leadership accountable. This means that it is a violation of your membership vow to look the other way while your brothers are being falsely accused of sin. Could it be that a failure to take this responsibility seriously could result in tangible judgment from the highest judge of all – Jesus Christ? The Bible is clear, God holds the church members accountable for the actions of their leaders.
This corporate responsibility has perhaps never been more important in Midway Presbyterian Church’s long history than it is today as Midway’s proclamation of the Gospel is stained by the leadership’s audacious disregard for one another, the church’s constitution, and basic Christian charity. This has resulted in a lack of purity – the absence of which has resulted in a lack of peace. It takes more than simply preaching the Word for its power to go forth, it must be done from a place absent of hypocrisy, and characterized by repentance when such error is found.
Study the matters at hand and determine whether Midway’s proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ has been compromised by the poor witness of the leadership in how they treat one another, and the subsequent lack of accountability insisted on by the congregation.
Perhaps you feel that Session politics are just a necessary reality, and seek to avoid getting informed or involved because after all the “Word is being preached weekly at Midway”. Midway reader, if this is you, consider that the power of this Gospel as Dr. Ferguson warns may be minimized by the sin threatening it. What does a visitor see when entering Midway Presbyterian Church’s doors? A leadership team united as a Session that rules well alongside humble pastors who bring the Gospel of Peace as servants to a dying community or a divided leadership team suspending their own members alongside prideful pastors who preach submission and suppress dissent in their flock? If it is the latter, prayerfully consult Jesus Christ that He might help you to understand why that might be.
Warning against those who devise evil and sow discord, the Lord is clear and direct in instructing his children in what He hates saying in Proverbs 6 “These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.”
The Lord promises men who practice these that “calamity shall come suddenly; Suddenly he shall be broken without remedy”. Sin is not a political game. A Session isn’t a gentleman’s club where the church power brokers and ‘play actors’ gather to proclaim their own influence. The church is the gathering of God’s elect under the Lordship of King Jesus, and He insists that it remain, as Dr. Ferguson put it, “committed to absolute holiness, to total devotion, to exposing hypocrisy, and living entirely, unreservedly, for Jesus Christ.”
It is a fearful thing to deviate from this objective.