Archive for May, 2022

Like many churches, we struggled as a church in having people return to corporate worship. We were not exclusively doing live stream for long. We continue to live stream. Many of our people were back soon after we resumed corporate worship after about 6 weeks. Some stayed away for over a year. Then in July/August 2021 we had a number of members come down with Covid and resumed live stream only for 3 weeks so we wouldn’t spread it in our worship service. As a result, some of those same families stayed away for longer than the 3 weeks.

Like many other churches, we took advantage of Crossway’s offer of free copies of Rediscover Church: Why the Body of Christ is Essential by Collin Hansen & Johnathan Leeman. This book was prompted by the above problem, but seeks to speak more generally about the essential place of the church in our lives, and the importance of corporate worship (but not just that).

“Even before the threat of deadly contagion, the church looked increasingly strange in an age when neighbors rarely gather for things like intimate discussion, quiet learning, and enthusiastic singing-“

One issue they bring up in the introduction is the impact of social media. They note that we seemed to like each other more before social media became fashionable. We learned others have very strong opinions we disagreed with, and that made being together more difficult. We have struggled to learn to overlook and forgive. Too many have put these views over the mutual commitment to Christ and left for congregations of like-minded people. The bond of peace is not preserved by the Spirit and humility but broken by division.

For these reasons and more this is a needed book. They do say some very good things as they work through why and how the Church is essential. I appreciate the desire to be brief. I am more likely, however, to recommend Devoted to God’s Church by Sinclair Ferguson.

What Is a Church?

Leeman begins the book with a chapter on the Church. He begins with some autobiography. As a young man he benefited at times from the local church, but it wasn’t essential to him. He found himself at Capital Baptist which seemed quite counter-cultural to him, particularly in the area around the nation’s capital which is captivated by politics.

“… your understanding of what the church is will shape your life and your living.”

He discusses that the church is a gospel community (formed by and testifying to the gospel). This is much needed for the unbelieving world. They need to see transformed communities, not simply individuals, since they see communities divided by non-essential doctrines, Covid responses and politics.

This gospel community is a manifestation of God’s kingdom. We are God’s temple.

Returning to some biographical data, you see the interesting nature of their polity. He notes that the congregation voted to receive him as a member. As a pastor, I find it difficult at times despite our small size, to really know people to determine the authenticity of their profession of faith. Our Session (elders) approve or deny membership, not the congregation. My point? They voted for a guy that only a few people knew with any depth. This is important because he notes that he “had one foot in and one foot out for the first year.” He was struggling with being an autonomous individual, but God continued to work in him. The congregation didn’t know this, but voted him in.

Who Can Belong to a Church?

Collin Hansen addresses the issue of who can be a member. He brings is family background into this as well. His family expected you to go, but not participate wholeheartedly. His answer to the question that entitles this chapter is one you would expect from a Baptist: baptized Christians. He notes the differences in meaning between himself and paedobaptists like myself. There really isn’t any discussion of the difference between the visible and invisible church that structures this conversation. He puts off more discussion of baptism until later.

This discussion of a “regenerate church” however neglects (I think) that distinction between the visible/invisible church. Regeneration is essential to be part of the invisible church. We cannot, unfortunately, accurately discern regeneration in others so the visible church is populated by both the regenerate and some unregenerate people. We do try to discern whether people are making a “valid” or sufficient profession of faith. In all of this I wonder how much New Covenant Theology is influencing him without him explicitly stating it. It is good to lay your presuppositions on the table.

Calling people to faith in Christ is important- it’s the essential message of the church. While stating there is no intrinsic value to attending church, one should wonder how they will believe (ordinarily) if they stop attending? Yes, they could recall a message heard before, or talk with a friend who clarifies the gospel. There does seem to be a slight discounting of the ordinary means of grace.

Thor and Loki Don’t Always Get Along

In addition to receiving a new father in adoption, he stresses that we receive new siblings. Loving them, coming from such different backgrounds, can be even more difficult than loving natural siblings. But the gospel is there to help us forgive and cherish one another.

Do We Really Need to Gather?

Leeman takes the next chapter on the necessity of corporate worship. He notes the groups of people are powerful. We see this in protests and political rallies. They are important for “what that group becomes by gathering.” He’s getting at the idea that worship is formative, and we need to be formed into the likeness of Christ. One of the Father’s main means for this is corporate worship.

The church, or assembly, is the gathered people of God. The church can’t be a church if it doesn’t gather. One of the problems of the Mosaic Covenant seems to be the people were only required to gather for the set festivals. Worship was centered in the tabernacle and then the temple. Worship has been “de-centralized” in the New Covenant. It is about Christ, not a unique place, so we are able to gather regularly to worship. Weekly worship is the pattern established for our well-being.

“The point is that attending church is what Christians do. It demonstrates that the Spirit of Christ is in us, and therefore we desire to be with Christ’s people.”

Here he gets into the hurdle of Covid-19. Love and sin are intensely relational. To not gather is to miss the point of love. It is hard to love another apart from gathering together. As he notes, Christianity is “more than just an information transfer.” It is the relational application of that information by faith.

The Enlightenment fostered individualism, and America has put this problem on steroids. We struggle to recognize the corporate nature of Christianity, in part because of the grammar of English. We fail to see that many of the times Paul uses “you” it is plural. We reduce Christianity to me and Jesus as a result. Our gatherings are meant to be a prelude to the heavenly and eternal gathering.

Why Are Preaching and Teaching Central?

Some people wonder why the pastor gets to address them claiming to speak for God. The sermon should be driven by Scripture (understanding and applying it) so that we hear from God together. “We’re shaped together as a people there.” The Word is the basis and limit of a sermon. But it is the Word for the community, not simply for personal but corporate application.

We are to listen, examine, believe and apply what is true. Disciples of Christ, we also begin to teach or disciple others. We counsel, encourage and instruct in a more specific way, applying the general messages we’ve heard to more particular circumstances.

You can find excellent expositors online. But they won’t sit down over a meal or drink with you to talk it through. This is the value of the ordinary preacher in an ordinary church. He should be faithful. But he should also be available. Over time you are shaped by the people you listen to: so character, not simply skill, matters.

Is Joining Actually Necessary?

Leeman begins with the experience of needing to visit an embassy while traveling overseas because his passport expired. He didn’t become a citizen because he was there, but received access to his rights as a citizen there.

Church membership is about being recognized as a citizen of heaven and receiving the earthly benefits you are entitled to. You don’t have that when you don’t join a church. Or at least all of them. Churches don’t “make” you Christians, but are called to recognize you as Christians based on evidence of the Spirit’s work.

This brings him to the “keys of the church” and ordinances (what many of us call sacraments). Baptism is about entrance into the church (though we disagree on whether or not children should be baptized since disagree on the nature of the sign and seal), and the Table is about remaining in the church. It is an opportunity to reaffirm that we need Jesus and He owns us.

Membership is about our commitment to one another because of our commitment to Christ. One issue I had here was in the sentence “I’m asking them to take responsibility for my Christian walk.” Perhaps it is semantics, but I can say “share responsibility”. It isn’t the church’s fault that I go astray unless they neglect their responsibilities.

“Church membership offers the safety of the sheep pen, where Christ is shepherd.”

You can be saved apart from church membership. But it is important for growth and maturity. We need others, and they need us, to grow. So membership is more than a status. Like citizenship it comes with rights AND responsibilities. The first denomination I was in stressed the latter, while the current one stresses the former. Our consumer mindset focuses on rights not responsibilities. When those “needs” are not being met, people forsake their responsibilities and vows made. We need to keep both in view.

Is Church Discipline Really Loving?

What happens when we violate our vows? Churches are supposed to exercise discipline on members who refuse to repent of false doctrine or sinful living. It is an attempt to protect the glory of Christ by protecting the body from sin, and seeking to restore the sinner. The church, and its leaders, are to instruct and correct.

When we put someone out of communion, we are declaring that they are unrepentant and in danger of condemnation. That person is not “shunned”, but are free to attend worship but not free to take the Table. In extreme cases, like abuse, they may be prohibited from attending a particular church.

Where there is mercy and forgiveness people are encouraged to repent. Where there is a harsh, unbending culture, people usually hide their sin. People can quickly tell if their church is a safe place to struggle with sin or if they need to pretend.

While we do not judge the person (“they are going to hell”) we do judge actions as right or wrong, sinful or righteous. It is unloving to allow a person to go down the wrong road. Love warns of danger, and that is what discipline is intended to do. In the church, the mob doesn’t rule. The law of God reveals sin that needs to be confessed.

How Do I Love Members that Are Different?

This is one of the best and most important chapters of the book. Particularly in our day. The early church dealt with conflict between ethnic groups, social classes and genders, just like we do. As a new humanity made up of people from every tribe, tongue and nationality; of men and women, slave and free, rich and poor, young and old there are many differences in priorities, preferences, and personalities.

Part of the problem is that people like to be around people just like them: affinity groups. Like hangs with like. Some people try to build churches on this principle (homogeneous church plants). Churches that had diversity moving into 2016 have been torn by social factors as people seek others who see the world like they do. Collin Hansen reminds us that “we need to rediscover the church as the fellowship of differents.” Affinity isn’t the same as love. Love also embraces differences rather than clinging to similarities.

He looks at the diverse group of people Jesus gathered as the inner circle of disciples: fishermen, a tax collector, a political zealot. There were probably some interesting debates around that table during dinner. Jesus also attracted a variety of “sinners”.

“These tax collectors and sinners would not have shared fellowship apart from Jesus. They did not have much in common, except the rejection of the Pharisees.”

In our culture we are often encouraged to celebrate diversity in a way that prioritizes “differences in ethnicity, nationality, gender, and, increasingly, sexual orientation.” Those who don’t quite fit the diversity or prioritize it are then excluded. In some cultures (or subcultures) they celebrate uniformity. You see this in nations with one political party, caste systems or a national religion that tolerates no rivals. In both cases, Hansen notes, community is built by exclusion. They tolerate only certain kinds of differences.

The Church is intended to be a wide variety of people united in Christ. He is the unifying factor: not race, class, gender, political views or sports allegiances. Jesus invites us into the discomfort of disagreement. The Church is meant to be filled with people who don’t normally associate together. This is one reason why the Church was seen as threatening to Rome. It subverted a culture founded on social power/class.

“Politics and pandemic have stressed many congregations past the breaking point. It might be easier to look for a church where everyone thinks, votes and sins the same way you do. It’s better for your spiritual growth, however, to hunker down in a fellowship of differents.

How Do We Love Outsiders?

Having discussed our need to love one another, Hansen shifts to the love of the outsider or non-Christian. He gets into how churches view their relationship to unbelievers. Some see corporate worship for evangelism. This did not originate with Bill Hybels. The Southern Baptist church seems to be the original seeker sensitive church. Sunday night was for discipleship, and when the Table is often celebrated. Some use a missional model where the church prepares people to reach out by meeting tangible needs. In many Pentecostal and charismatic churches, the focus is on healing, making life better. The last general category he lists is the church as a dispensary of grace. This could be in the Roman Catholic model of dispensing grace through sacraments. In Reformed circles it is dispensed by the gospel preached and believed.

He shifts to the Great Commission. I am NOT disagreeing with the Great Commission, but how he interprets the great commissions. The main verb in this sentence is to “make disciples” (we agree that we aren’t just making “believers”). The two participles explain what it looks like: baptizing them and teaching them to obey all Jesus has commanded.

The reason the disciples baptized new believers is that they were new disciples. Baptism is the beginning of discipleship. He focuses on “new believers”, ignoring the missionary context of those baptisms in Acts.

We do agree that the task of the church is making disciples. We are to relate to them as people needing to be discipled in Christ instead of worldliness. We need to realize that the world is constantly discipling people. Leeman notes that “it takes twice the amount of time to make the same amount of progress in discipleship today as a decade ago.” This, despite the greater access to sermons, podcasts, blogs and books. We need more in-person discipleship.

Who Leads?

Leeman addresses church leadership in the next chapter. The last few years have eroded trust in leaders as many feel the weight of conflicting messages, false news, overreach and more. One thing he mentions to help rebuild trust is to be clear about the pastor’s job description. He focuses on the pastor’s role of building people up and equipping them to fulfill their job description. He puts it this way:

Elders’ job + members’ job = Jesus’s discipleship program

Equipping the people includes teaching and providing a godly example. One man can’t do all of this, and he points to the plurality of elders that is part of a healthy, biblical church. The non-vocational elders provide examples of faith in the workplace and retirement. They provide examples of mature men and the office is open to other men who mature.

When trustworthy men are chosen, the people still need to be willing to trust. The message of questioning or resisting is a big part of our society, and this ungodly attitude has infected the church. Trust is important for the well-being of a congregation, and the time apart due to Covid, and choices made in crises, have eroded trust. When a coach loses a locker room, it is pretty much over for him. Pastors and elders can work together to win the congregation back.

“Trust is the oil that allows the engine of Jesus’s discipleship program to operate. Without it, gears grind to a halt. … A church that cannot gather and that has low reserves of trust is like a car with an engine that is running low on oil.”

Leaders, good ones who follow Jesus’ plan, are calling people to grow and change. People shouldn’t look for a church that simply affirms them and their beliefs. In the midst of that, conflict is bound to happen. Leeman suggests that at times parting ways can be good, if people realize they may be part of the problem and the instruction of others may help them grow and reconcile. They don’t have to be under your leadership, but they should be under someone’s who they will listen to.

He then gets to the role of deacons. They aren’t comparable to the elders. Their role is different. It is important to care for the physical needs too. Lack of care there also leads to disunity, as the early church learned in Acts 6. Deacons provide an example of faithful service to God’s people.


They share two stories of real people. The first couple are former missionaries who are struggling in their marriage. No one at their big church knows. They are not connected. They think they are mature, but instead they are proud.

They may need to move closer to they can be involved: be known and know others.

Jazmine was sexually abused by a stepfather, and then in foster homes. Her marriage was difficult as she found it difficult to trust. She did seek help from her church. She grew and her marriage got better. She invested herself in her church, unlike the first couple.

We have to engage, not just expect.

They don’t encourage you to shop for a better church, but invest in the one you are in (unless it is abusive or heretical). The drift likely began before the pandemic or partisanship. It likely began as you withdrew. People are generally, due to the flesh, looking not for how they can serve but get their needs met. This means that “loyalty lasts only so long as the church continues to meet your needs.” Jesus talked about self-denial, not self-fulfillment. Self-denial, humility and considering the interests of others foster unity and growth. Just show up. Just get to know people and serve them (and allow them to serve you). Church will become more of what you need.

“You don’t get the church you want, but something better.”

As I noted early on, this is a good book. It says a number of good and important things. There are some theological presuppositions that should have been expressed. Those presuppositions may drive some of the disagreements (minor) I have with the book.

I hope it fulfills the goals of the authors. I hope that it motivates people to return to church, and invest in that church. It is good as far as it goes. I just wish it went further.

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You saw the title of this post, and likely wondered, “what in the world is the Dorean Principle?”. I wondered what the principle was as well.

A clue comes in the subtitle to Conley Owens’ book: A Biblical Response to the Commercialization of Christianity.

Owens is concerned about commercialization raises some valid questions and concerns. It just took me awhile as I read it to get a clearer picture of what those concerns were. Perhaps the Introduction threw me off.

“Christian book sales climb into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Parachurch ministries amass sizable revenues, with organizations like Cru surpassing $600 million. Seminaries collect tuition upwards of $60,000 for a standard degree, with loan payments leaving many pastors financially shackled for years. … Certainly, money fuels the work of ministry, and the worker is worthy of his wages (1 Tim. 5:18), but at what point does the financial enterprise go to far?” (pp. 1)

There is some sense in which tossing Cru in there throws us off the scent of the real problem he’s raising. Most of what Cru does seems to follow the Dorean Principle. At least as I understand his explanation of the principle. I will get back to Cru later.

Cutting to the chase: I think he raises some valuable questions that need to be thought through but I’m not convinced by all of his arguments nor share all his conclusions. It is a book, and subject, worth wrestling with. There are some exegetical issues as well as concerns for application.

The Dorean Principle

The principle is basically the difference between reciprocity and co-labor. Reciprocity is defined as paying money to gain access to the gospel via preaching. Paul, for instance, refused to receive payment from the Corinthians while the “super-apostles” requested payment from them. Paul viewed them as “selling the gospel”.

Co-labor is when you receive money from Christians to make the gospel available to other people. It is not fee for services. It is funding the effort to reach other people.

“The apostle never receives money from those he is converting. However, as we have already noted, Paul willingly receives money from his churches when the context does not indicate that they intend to repay him for his ministry or for their conversion.” pp. 76

The Dorean Principle: In the context of gospel proclamation, accepting support as anything other than an act of colabor compromises the sincerity of ministry.” pp. 10

Exegetical Questions

Owens explores a number of passages in a number of chapters to make his point. These include a number of tensions he uncovers that continue to flesh out his principle (immediacy vs. indirection, difficulty vs. obligation, freedom vs. duty etc.). What was interesting to me was that he waited until page 104 to “define the gospel”.

At times I struggled with aspects of his exegetical foundation. For instance, Jesus’ instruction to the disciples He sent was prescriptive for them, but was it meant to be prescriptive for all to follow, and for every trip? Does it hold for those who are evangelizing, or those engaging in any type of gospel ministry?

I see this issue in a number of texts he used. They were in the context of missions and evangelism (this is the same issue with many NT accounts of baptism) but are extended beyond that context to fit all. Proper hermeneutical principles keep the context in mind so you don’t arrive at faulty conclusions and applications.

He spends time in Corinthians. Paul was planting a church in Corinth, and chose not to receive any money from them like many of the rhetorical teachers of his day. Yes, Paul did not want money to come between the Corinthians and the gospel. That is a good principle. It is a more defensible position than never receiving money from those you currently serve. Later he will discuss why pastors will be able to receive money from congregations but it seems like looking for loopholes to me. But I get ahead of myself.

If I buy a book by Sinclair Ferguson, it is a form of gospel ministry to me. But I am buying the book because I am already a Christian. I am not being kept from hearing the gospel for my conversion if I don’t have the money to buy it. As a Christian (and pastor) I may buy a copy and give it away to unbelieving friends. Money is not necessarily keeping them from hearing the gospel. I’m not convinced that Sinclair Ferguson is being insincere (a term he uses for the ministry of the super-apostles) in his ministry because his books are sold. I don’t view this a peddling the word of God. I see it as recognizing that he worked hard, and publishing the book costs money for all the people who worked on it as well as the materials involved. I think he’s worthy of his wages. I am free to buy or not buy the book.

In his chapter The Greed of Wolves Owens makes greed co-terminus with false teacher. I “wrongly” hold to the typical view which sees overlap between greed and false teachers as the Bible uses the term (pp. 64). Some false teachers, for instance, distort the gospel to present a different gospel because of the fear of man (see Galatians 1). It isn’t about money. The Pharisees were condemned not only for their greed, but also their false conception of grace (merited by works), exalting their tradition over God’s law and more. In one of the texts he uses they seek pride of place/position but that is glossed over.

Those who seek to get rich off the gospel (a right gospel but greedy heart) are to distinguished from those preach a false gospel “sincerely”, and those who preach a false gospel to get rich. I find more categories at work than Owens appears to since the human heart is deceptive and complex. This is an example, however, of the black and white, either/or, thinking in this book that ignores the reality of both/and and that people have mixed motives and fall prey to the deceitfulness of sin. For instance, “pragmatism” can sometimes be prudence rather than doing something just because it works.

Applying the Principle

What Owens is grappling with is the difficulty of living in a world not imagined by the human authors of the Bible and that the divine Author didn’t reveal to them. It makes application of a first century principle difficult at points. He tries to work through some of these issues, but I found his applications quite literal. He seems to stick to the letter of the principle rather than the spirit of the principle.

Church members, for instance, give to the church because they support its ministry. Part of that money may go to the pastor (and staff), but it is indirect, is not compulsory, and also supports those ministries from which the person gets no benefit. Designated giving to only ministries you directly benefit from would be reciprocity. In my opinion, designated giving should be reserved for mercy (we have a deacons’ fund) or projects. The pastor should not receive money directly from congregants each Sunday. They are giving to the church, not simply the pastor.

Churches should avoid fee for services when it comes to aspects of gospel ministry: funerals, baptisms, weddings etc. He approves honorariums since they are neither required nor set fees. Personally, I don’t talk about money for those ministry opportunities. I see them as gospel opportunities. I’m not doing them “for the money”.

As an example of selling the gospel, he mentions that Redeemer charges $1,600 for the entire archive of Tim Keller’s sermons. Since they are now digitized, I agree that this seems a bit much. Many of his sermons are offered freely, which he doesn’t mention. It would seem better to offer all of them freely since there really isn’t an expense to digitized copies, unlike the printed collections of sermons sold in Spurgeon’s days and that you can get today as well.

When I was converted there were cassette tapes (most churches had a tape ministry and asked for money to cover costs), and Ligonier (among others) used VHS. By the time I worked for Ligonier they were beginning to use CDs and DVDs as the tapes were phasing out. Now CDs and DVDs are phasing out for digital downloads. Ministry is slow to catch up with technology. And we are slower to ask the questions we need to ask. A ministry like Ligonier does need to pay the people who work there to plan conferences, publish Tabletalk, produce the radio show etc. In addition to fundraising (co-labor!) there is a cost for products. Again, I’m not convinced this is peddling the gospel.

Cru may have revenue of millions of dollars, but that is not from selling the gospel. That is primarily a result of campus workers and office workers raising support to do their gospel work. This is co-labor. They aren’t charging students money. When I was a student, I took part in a volleyball fundraiser to send students to conferences. More co-labor. I didn’t pay for the conference I attended.

Cru HQ

The sheer size of Cru and its administration creates that big number. A question he doesn’t ask but perhaps should is about the size of parachurch ministries that are not under any ecclesiastical authority. He does note a number of issues with parachurch ministries in the 12th chapter. They are outside of the regulation of the church, though they often have boards rather than elders. In this chapter he fails to distinguish the raising of funds for the poor in Jerusalem from ordinary giving (1 Cor. 16:1-2).

He brings up some churches that charge money to attend special services. Or receive services like counseling (I’m not sure I’d consider that peddling the gospel though not disconnected from the gospel). Self-publishing and digitized books can greatly reduce costs and make it easier to not charge people for copies. I, however, don’t like digitized book since I write in books. Not all royalties go to the author, however. I was looking at a commentary and all the royalties for the series go to the Langham Partnership established by John Stott.

Some congregations support “artists or scholars in residence” (for instance Gary Thomas, Matt Papa among others). They are supported, at least in part, by the congregation to enable them to produce books and music for the benefit of the church and Church.

Owens, on page 110, does acknowledge that some who adopt “compromised practices” are true teachers. He finds it unwise and unnecessary to boycott true teachers who have such compromised practices. He was unclear about whether or not he support circumventing paywall. He quotes Jesus in Mt. 17:25-27 regarding the temple tax as nuanced. “However, for the sake of peace, it is often best to bear such burdens” doesn’t seem like a clear call to avoid illicit (illegal) downloads.

He addresses the growth of crowdfunding. When there are perks at donation levels, Owens is uncomfortable with the move toward reciprocity. He also addresses seminaries and issues regarding copyrights.

There are some interesting ideas here. Richard Pratt, for instance, has long been critical of the common seminary model. Third Millennium raises support to fund education for people in other countries without access to seminaries.

What makes me uncomfortable, however, is over-analysis, or perhaps I should say straining after gnats. It is easy to become legalistic and Pharisaical in trying to avoid commercialism of the gospel. There can be a fine line between wisdom and being over-scrupulous. I’m not sure where that is and if Owens crossed it.

For example, they talk about conferences like the recent Together for the Gospel. Sub in Ligonier, Catalyst, Gospel Coalition or any number of them. Tickets, according to the Dorean Principle should reflect only expenses incurred to have the conference, not to cover fees for speakers (or honorariums). I’m not sure why this is a problem since it is an indirect payment, made to (presumably) sincere people and it is not mandatory since I don’t need to go to hear the gospel. It seems to be focused on practices instead of people (are they greedy and asking for too much compensation, are they teaching false doctrine- the questions that have to do with character and qualifications for office). Instead we are looking at business practices because, unfortunately, there are commercial realities in life under the sun.

The book has merit, but I don’t’t buy it hook, line and sinker. It is clear that the church needs to think more about the impact of money on ministry and ministry models. This is a first step. Hopefully it won’t be the last. I just don’t want us to spend so much time on this that we aren’t actually communicating the gospel.

BTW: Conley Owens sent me a free copy of the book for me to review. It is offered free for Kindle on Amazon and you can get a free pdf download on the website so he’s putting his convictions into practice.

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