Lecture 2 – Duty of Interchurch Communion

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C. Some major biblical data underscoring our duty to cultivate interchurch communion

  • We will consider first of all some of the key texts found in the book of Acts.  Whenever we are considering data from the book of Acts, we must always remember the distinction between that which is a record of the things that are “programmatic” and those that are “paradigmatic.”
  • Then there is a second major block of texts, those that are found in the Epistles of the New Testament. Time will not permit me to read all those that I have listed in your notes, but I list them for your future consideration and reference.
1. In the Book of Acts

Acts 9:26-31
Acts 11:19-26
Acts 15:1-35
Acts 18:22

2. In the Epistles

Rom. 15:25-28; 16:1-4
1 Cor. 1:1-2; 16:1ff, 19-22
2 Cor. 3:1; 8; 9; (esp. 8:19); 13:13
Gal. 6:10
Eph. 6:21-22
Phil. 4:15-16, 21-22
Col. 1:6-8; 4:7-9, 15-16
1 Thes. 1:7; 4:9-10
2 Thes. 1:4
2 Tim. 4:19-21
Heb. 13:3
2 Jn. 7-11
3 Jn. 5-7
John Owen, The Works of John Owen, vol. 16, (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1968), p. 183.
John Owen, The Works of John Owen, vol. 16, (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1968), p. 196.
John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray, vol. 2, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1977), p. 335.

D. Some practical perspectives and guidelines with respect to the performance of this duty

1. Some of the ways in which we can nurture and express our oneness with the body of Christ and foster real and productive interchurch communion
a. By our acquisition, assimilation, and communication of information. It is impossible to read the Book of Acts, and the New Testament Epistles, and not perceive this principle emerging times without number.
Eph. 6:21-22
Col. 1:3-8

At the conclusion of the main issues to be covered this lecture, I will address the subject of “Interchurch Communication – Practical Counsels for Its Implementation”

b. By the communication of concern and good will among the churches through the leaders
        • This is equally patent in the New Testament literature.
Phil. 4:21-22
c. By the communion of goods and material necessities
2 Cor. 8, 9
1 Jn. 3:16-19
Phil. 4:15
d. By cooperation in Scriptural causes
2 Cor. 8, 9
e. By the sharing of ministerial gifts
Eph. 4:11
Acts 11:22-26
Rom. 16:1-2
f. By the recognition of the validity of oversight and discipline of other churches
2 Cor. 3:1
1 Tim. 1:20
g. By the seeking of counsel and offering of counsel when requested.
Acts 15
h. By the periodic public recognition of other proven servants of Christ
2 Cor. 8:18
i. By the public intercession for other churches and servants of Christ.
Eph. 6:18-19
Col. 4:12-13
John Owen, The Works of John Owen, vol. 16, (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1968), pp. 192-193.
2. The extent or degree to which we can nurture and express our oneness with the body of Christ.
a. To the extent that there is no erosion, compromise, or contradiction of our clearly defined doctrinal convictions, publicly defined mission, and present condition as a local church
John Owen, The Works of John Owen, vol. 16, (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1968), p. 190.
b. In proportion to our unity of faith and life
c. In consideration of our providentially arranged relationships in the body of Christ.
Col. 4:12-13
John Owen, The Works of John Owen, vol. 16, (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1968), p. 185.
1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 26 paragraph 14-15
14. As each church, and all the members of it, are bound to pray continually for the good and prosperity of all the churches of Christ, in all places, and upon all occasions to further every one within the bounds of their places and callings, in the exercise of their gifts and graces, so the churches, when planted by the providence of God, so as they may enjoy opportunity and advantage for it, ought to hold communion among themselves, for their peace, increase of love, and mutual edification. (Ephesians 6:18; Psalms 122:6; Romans 16:1, 2; 3 John 8-10)
15. In cases of difficulties or differences, either in point of doctrine or administration, wherein either the churches in general are concerned, or any one church, in their peace, union, and edification; or any member or members of any church are injured, in or by any proceedings in censures not agreeable to truth and order: it is according to the mind of Christ, that many churches holding communion together, do, by their messengers, meet to consider, and give their advice in or about that matter in difference, to be reported to all the churches concerned; howbeit these messengers assembled, are not intrusted with any church-power properly so called; or with any jurisdiction over the churches themselves, to exercise any censures either over any churches or persons; or to impose their determination on the churches or officers.  (Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23, 25; 2 Corinthians 1:24; 1 John 4:1)
3. Concluding exhortations
a. Always treat brethren as brethren.
b. Avoid a sectarian attitude, while holding tenaciously to your distinctive convictions of conscience
c. Avoid terminology which will unnecessarily offend.
d. Avoid the slightest tendency to erode strict parity among the churches.
John Owen, The Works of John Owen, vol. 16, (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1968), pp. 184-185.

The Collected Writings of John Murray, vol. 2, pp. 321-335
The Works of John Owen, vol. 16, pp. 183-208
The Doctrine of the Church, John Thornbury, Heritage Publishers
E. Practical Counsels Concerning Interchurch Communication
What I intend to set before you is exactly what this heading conveys – I am seeking to give very practical council relative to the whole question “How shall I communicate with others as I seek to foster interchurch communion?
I want you to imagine that you are a young pastor who has called me asking for help in this area. What I propose to lay before you is a collation of the various things that I have tried to practice and to pass on to others over my many years of pastoral labor.
As I am preparing this syllabus, I have before me the notes from which I preached on this subject on October 10, 2000, at one of the Annual Pastors Conferences held at Trinity Baptist Church. The following outline is a reproduction of those notes.

1. Establish your own network of interchurch communication based on your own interpersonal relationships with men and churches of like mind.

a. This word of counsel grows out of many biblical principles, not the least of which is 1 Tim. 5:22. When a prayer letter is read to your people, you are in great measure validating the man, the ministry, and the church from which that letter comes.

(1) Such a validation is not to be undertaken hastily or irresponsibly. You are thus “to lay hands hastily on no man.”

(2) This is the principle that was operative in the apostolic age in the practice of securing “letters of commendation” when there was interchurch interaction among the people of God.  2 Cor. 3:1; Rom. 16:1-2

(3) See also Acts 9:26; it was not enough that Paul was able to speak of his personal experience.

b. How does this actually work itself out in practice?

Describe the scenario:

You meet a brother here in this module or at a similar gathering.

As you share general information about one another, you are conscious of the chemistry of the beginning of a special friendship.  You agree to nurture this budding relationship with some phone calls, emails, and perhaps sharing tapes of each other’s preaching.  You then agree to begin to exchange letters to each other’s churches. You may then agree to a pulpit exchange, during which ministry each of you would give something of your own testimony and of the history of your assembly to each other’s congregation. Now, a measure of real interchurch communion has been established.

c. The scenario I have just described is not a matter of abstract theory.  The general pattern I have described has been repeated times without number before my own eyes and within the scope of my own experience at Trinity for 46 years.

d. You don’t establish meaningful and fruitful interchurch communion by simply getting a list of churches with which someone else has established such relationships, or a list of people who happen to subscribe to the same confessional standards as you do.

e. Over the years, I have had many men who are part of denominational and associational structures, bear witness to me that denominational or associational ties on paper, have no power to create real and meaningful interchurch communion. Rather, it is the discipline of working at cultivating real relationships with real people by means of the various avenues available to us that results in meaningful and edifying interchurch relationships.

f. If the apostle Paul, with all of his apostolic burdens and responsibilities, made the time to communicate among the churches and with individual brethren, none of us has any excuse for not cultivating this apostolic discipline which alone will result in true interchurch communion.

g. It is far better to have one half dozen meaningful interchurch relationships, than 100 that are merely a matter of names and places on a piece of paper.

Now, my second word of counsel relative to interchurch communication is this:

2. Mark on your on your working calendar specific dates for the composition of your general newsletters

a. The things we are persuaded we ought to do, are the things for which we make the time to do them. Then, if we don’t do them, we bloody our consciences and make fuel for repentance. See Jas. 4:17

b. Is this not true regarding personal devotions; family worship; sermon preparation; caring for needy sheep, etc?

c. I would counsel you to put on your normal work calendar, such words as “First draft of quarterly, semi-annual, or annual newsletter.

d. This was our ordinary pattern for many years at Trinity Baptist Church

This brings us, then, to the next heading which is:

3. Compose your general newsletters with the constant pressure of the “golden rule” upon your conscience and your judgement

a. Read, then briefly expound Mt. 7:12

b. Give some specific counsel regarding Mt. 7:12 perspectives in the composition of a newsletter

(1) Generally begin the letter with matters of thanksgiving. Often, no startling news is the best kind of “good news” you can convey to other churches. See Prov. 25:25

(2) Spell out specific concerns and items for prayer under a reasonable number of headings.

(3) Do not include details of matters inappropriate for a general newsletter. When there are serious troubles in the church, disciplinary matters, etc., don’t use personal names or go into excessive detail regarding these things.

(4) Seek to format the letter in such a way as to make a minimal demand for editing upon those who receive the letter.

Surely, most of you know the frustration of working through paragraphs of miscellaneous material that is difficult to read or set before one’s congregation in a church prayer meeting.

Furthermore, many churches desire to post the newsletters.  When everything is arranged on one page and in an orderly fashion, it is much more likely that those who pause to read the letter on the church bulletin board will profit from it.

c. When realism and accuracy in a newsletter demand addressing particularly sensitive issues, such as matters of internal disruption, disappointments, etc., it is good to seek the input of trusted brethren who will be receiving the letter. Compose a draft and read it to such trusted brethren, seeking their honest comments as to whether or not they judge what you have written to be appropriate for a general newsletter.

Above all, with respect to interchurch relationships and activities, REMEMBER THE GOLDEN RULE (Mt. 7:12).

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