Why This Baptist Follows the Revised Common Lectionary

The church I pastor, Christ the Redeemer, is a congregation that seeks to appreciate the tradition of the Church at-large without a lot of the pomp. It is a middle ground between what is called “low church” (a service opting for as earthy as possible–a few songs and a sermon) and “high church” (a lot of formality and ritual). I like to call what we do, “middle church.”

I may write more on this at another time, but our liturgy is structured following the biblical storyline of Creation > Fall > Redemption > Consummation. There are a lot of elements you find in a clearly delineated order of service (i.e., Call to Worship, Individual & Corporate Confession, Lord’s Supper, Benediction, Commission).

Latest Sermon from Warning Passages in Hebrews 2 & 3

The purpose of this post, however, seeks to explain why we follow the Revised Common Lectionary [RCL]. This is our church’s conviction. We do not presume to know or prescribe what other local congregations ought to do…other than preach the Gospel in the best way they see fit for their time and place.

Some Principles that Direct Our Decision

Local Church Autonomy

As a Baptist, we are so thankful for local church autonomy and, as such, there isn’t a prescribed Order of Service for a church to be a “Baptist” church. The elements that link us are theological and not pragmatic. Go to one Baptist church, and it could be different than one you visit the following week. There is no prescribed way to order a Baptist church. Such diversity is healthy. Indeed, it is missiological in nature. There are so many kinds of people. It is only beneficial that there be many different kinds of churches. There is a danger to want all churches to look and sound like my preferences. To acquiesce would make the Church a monolith, rather than the rich and diverse expression of the richness and diversity of her people.

Guardrails & Guidelines

The prescribed readings for a given week are merely that, a prescription. I can opt not to take a prescription. I have often said that the RCL serves as guardrails or guidelines and not a straitjacket. That is, there may be a time in our church’s life that we don’t follow the RCL‘s Scripture passages because we want to focus on a particular book or issue in the life of our church. We have the freedom to do that.

The Whole Counsel of God

The RCL is a set of readings from the Psalms, Old Testament, Gospels, and Epistles. The real beauty of the Lectionary is that over the course of three years, our church will have heard the entire breadth of the Scriptures.

How We Implement the Readings

We open each of our services with a Call to Worship. This has always been from the reading from the Psalm for that Sunday and is typically read responsively with the Service Leader. For example, this past Sunday 
The Leader read Psalm 19.1-6
  The Congregation responded with vv.7-9
The Leader responded with vv.10-13
  The Congregation with v.14.

After children 4-6 are dismissed from the service, we have typically have an Old Testament reading (which follows the thematic order of the RCL rather than working through the Bible canonically). During this season of Lent, the sermon text has been from the Gospel reading, since we have wanted to focus on Jesus’ life and ministry during Epiphany and Lent. Therefore, the New Testament reading has been from the Epistles. 

After we celebrated Easter, we focused attention on the Epistle readings–so we can work through a book (2Corinthians, Ephesians, James, and much of Hebrews). Next year we will focus on Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, and Lamentations.

Responding to Criticism

Are you opting for traditions of men over God’s Word?

Every church follows a liturgy. It is merely an order of service. Whether a church is explicit in its reference to a liturgy or not, it does not negate the fact that every church follows some order of their weekly gathering. A “low church” typically has a Welcome & Announcements, then a few songs (two fast and two slow), followed by a Sermon, Passing the Offering Plate, and Dismissal. There is no getting around a liturgy. Scripture is silent on a prescribed method or model. I can’t help but think this is so that churches have the freedom to contextualize and serve their time and space most effectively. A church in Jerusalem in AD 100 and a church in Greenville, SC in AD 2018 ought to look different, but feel similar, as they are both rooted in the proclamation of the Gospel and mutual edification of the saints. 

What about expositional preaching?

The 20th century saw the advent of working through a book of Scripture–specifically through the ministry of Martin Lloyd-Jones. Since that time, there has been an emphasis in evangelical circles of walking through a book chapter-by-chapter (and in some cases, verse-by-verse). There, of course, is great benefit to walking through a book of Scripture in such a way–after all, that is our plan at Redeemer following Pentecost Sunday!

But “expositional preaching” is a type of preaching that “exposits” or walks through the meaning of a passage of Scripture–heeding the context and the original authorial intent. This is the general characteristic and tenor of expositional preaching. This is the healthiest way to preach, I believe. After all, there is a need for churches to teach people how to read Scripture contextually. There is a need to explain the author’s original intent rather than opting for it as a springboard for a non-contextual, hyper-applicable sermon. The former does not see a need to get the context of the passage because the text is always evolving or it is merely a starting point for a trajectory that changes over time. The latter uses the text of Scripture to support an agenda or topic for the sermon (typically termed “topical preaching”).

Expositional preaching is the kind of preaching I do at Redeemer–though I am sure others would say that I don’t because I don’t preach verse-by-verse. Needless to say, the term “expositional preaching” gets at the issue of explaining a text of Scripture. 

There actually are times that a topical sermon may be in order. For example, I preached on the five solas of the Protestant Reformation for five Sundays to commemorate the 500-year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Each of those solas, however, was wedded to and derived from a passage of Scripture. For example, Sola Scriptura was based off 2Peter 1.16-21, where Peter’s intent was to give the surety and confidence we have in Scripture. 

In fairness, even for those walking through a book verse-by-verse or chapter-by-chapter, the passage for that Sunday runs the risk of being taken out of context. That is, instead of reading the whole epistle of Ephesians (as would have been done in Ephesus), the pastor will only be explaining one chapter or a few verses of one chapter in hopes that people remember the previous weeks’ sermons and verses. It behoves each of us on Sunday to explain the context of a passage of Scripture each Sunday for the building up of God’s people and as a demonstration of how to read contextually and with all the texture and depth of a particular passage. 

Positively Speaking

Jewish prescribed readings

Following the guidelines of the RCL follows the model of the Jewish readings in the synagogue during the time of Christ. Note Luke 4.17: The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to [Jesus]. There was a prescribed lectionary in the Jewish faith. Following the RCL just follows such a model.

The Breadth of Scripture

As mentioned earlier, following the RCL helps the congregation hear the entirety of Scripture over the course of three years. A couple Sundays ago, we had the uncomfortable experience of sitting through the entirety of Genesis 17 where there word “circumcision” shows up repeatedly. It was uncomfortable as a father…and as a man. Yet, there I was listening and underneath God’s Word. Following the RCL helps us affirm in a practical way our belief that all of Scripture is God-breathed, not merely what the preaching pastor feels comfortable with. 

In all honesty, and in full disclosure, I have heard this as an argument for walking through a book verse-by-verse. Yes, this is great! Keep going for it. Yet, I can’t help but think that many pastors keep preaching through Romans and Genesis and Nehemiah and several epistles verse-by-verse and don’t want to tackle Song of Solomon or Leviticus or Revelation. Sure, there are brothers who are tackling those…may their tribe increase! Yet, let’s not put our yoke of conviction on others and say it must be their yoke. May we be able to serve in our particular congregations in accord with our convictions and joyfully.

Affirming the Church Universal

Every Sunday, while our people at our local congregation are hearing the words of John 2.13-22 so also are myriads of congregations hearing these same passages. We are one congregation in the midst of the Great Congregation. Not only across space, but across time.

What a beautiful picture to consider that we are hearing the same readings as other brothers and sisters…and across denominational lines!

Shaping the Congregation

The seasons of the Church Calendar provide us opportunity to pause at intervals to consider various aspects of our discipleship. That is, we focused on Jesus’ first Advent–his kingship, and then on his early ministry of calling the disciples and how that ought to inform our being called by him at Epiphany, and we reflected on the need to repent and lay down our lives during the season of Lent. We focus on the church as a community during Ordinary Time after Pentecost Sunday (the too-oft neglected celebration of the Church–that is, not celebrating and considering the implications of Pentecost forty days following Resurrection Sunday. My opinion only!). 

I have heard accounts of people in our congregation being greatly affected by the various foci we have had as a congregation as we have spent time considering these varied aspects of our communal and personal discipleship with Jesus.

Preparing Our Hearts

This is not to say that this can’t happen in a church that doesn’t follow the RCL, I wish, though, it would happen more, but every Sunday people know what passages we will be hearing…for the rest of our lives. That is, we are in cycle B of the Lectionary right now. Someone in my congregation passed me in the hallway before the worship service and asked, “You preaching on John 2 today?” What an encouraging question! “Why yes, yes I am.” Even visitors to our congregation could know what I will be preaching on if they visited the Lectionary for that Sunday. Granted, I could have preached on Psalm 19 or Exodus 20 or 1Corinthians 1 this past Sunday. But at least someone would know.

One Story

There is a thorny problem in our churches that opt for a canon within a canon. That is, too often people give priority or superiority of one Scripture or body of Scripture over another. Because the RCL has us read from four passages of Scripture each Sunday, we see the value of poetry, history, prose, prophecy, and epistle. We see them as equally important to our devotion.

What is more, because we have opted for the thematic readings, we will hear from Numbers 21 (the account of the bronze serpent being lifted up) and John 3 (where Jesus references that happening in Israel’s wilderness wanderings) and Ephesians 2 (where Paul reminds us that we were not just in the threat of death, but were, indeed, dead in our trespasses and sins). 

People are enabled to see the one story of Scripture that magnifies and tells the story of redemption. They hear the unity of the Bible. Its beauty and its strength and its relevance for us…in every genre of Scripture.

“Conquering Through Confidence” – 1John 5

Brief Thoughts on Church Membership (altogether incomplete)

I have been reflecting on the subject of church membership for the last few weeks. This stems from planting a church and having folks join who are members of existing churches. This also stems from folks who joined our church plant and have moved their membership–both issues had to do with distance to our new location and a desire to be involved in a more specific way to those who attend another church for purposes of ministry (both great reasons!).

My thoughts haven’t just been a result of circumstances. Rather, they come from a desire to think theologically about this issue.

First, I want to make clear that membership in a local church is the primary means of discipleship in the Christian journey. We make commitments to others to love and serve and be loved and be served by others. It is a beautiful and necessary commitment that we take way too lightly.

BUT too often pastors and church leaders speak about church membership in very unhelpful terms. We speak about it being like a marriage. It most certainly is not. It is not a covenant either. Scripture speaks about our membership in the Body of Christ. The local congregation is a physical manifestation of that reality. Everything we do is in the context of local–geographically and temporally. My fear is that church bodies can begin to assume that members of a local congregation cannot leave. Much like the Hotel California, people are often guilted in staying. People are made to think they are being less committed to the mission of the Church (yes, that’s a large C, signifying the Church Universal).

We have a membership class coming up for Redeemer in a few weeks. I take great pains to help people see that our congregation is one among many faithful churches in time and space. We do not have a corner on the market of faithfulness. We are one very small player on the great stage of history. The more we recite this truth, the more humble and grateful we will become. Every time we say this, we are reminded that God’s purposes are much larger than us. We are reminded that we have certain proclivities and characteristics that may set us apart by way of trends and passions. We are reminded that there are many other brothers and sisters seeking to do the same thing as us–take up our crosses daily and follow Jesus (individually and corporately).

One of the things I make sure to tell people is that if they want to make a commitment to be a member of Redeemer, it ought to be based on it mission and vision. We try to keep it very simple, as you’ll see from our website. How we go about accomplishing these things are called our Core Values. That’s how we seek to accomplish the vision right now in 2018.

But the Church is an organization, but it is also a living organism. As with all organisms, change is inevitable. Indeed, it is desired. As human beings we necessarily grow and change if we are alive. It is inherent to the very definition of life. Change is beautiful. Inevitably, our church will grow as people are added to our congregation. This is beautiful because it enables and empowers people to contribute their gifts and passions to the whole, and for the whole to shape the particular person.

Over time, there may be people who have changes of convictions for how “to do” church. That is, they may disagree with our emphasis on church planting, mission, and mercy. They may disagree with our commitment to simplicity. At the end of the day, as a pastor I want people to be freed to serve and be served by others. If they are staying at Redeemer just because they made a commitment in 2018, that is not healthy. Rather, my desire is that they be involved. Intimately involved in the growth and development of our church. If they cannot do so, it is healthier that they find a congregation where they can faithfully live out their convictions.

This doesn’t have to be an ugly thing. Rather, it can be a very beautiful thing where we are again reminded and remind each other that we do no have a corner on the market of biblical fidelity. Jesus promised to build his Church. I get to be a small observer in that construction project–stone upon stone.

We want people to be a part of Redeemer who believe in the vision and mission and who want to play an integral part in seeing that vision become a reality in our small corner of the universe. So when folks leave, we don’t need to guilt them. Sure, we will miss folks as they leave, but may we depart to meet again.

Get Woke

It seems like this is the phrase these days that all the cool kids say. It means to be aware of social situations we currently find ourselves in. You’re welcome. Now you can use it on your socials and impress everyone that you are, indeed, socially conscious. On a larger scale, though, it is clear that our current cultural milieu finds us still asleep. Still lulled by the hyper-activity of all the social events we are to remain current on to be a caring citizen. Every month seems to be a month dedicated to another socially-important thing you are to buy or tweet about. Yet, we find that with all the clambering, our souls are still unsettled. We are clambering because our souls are restless. We desperately want people to care…about us. We want people to know that we care and, therefore, we matter.

My call to you, my reader, is that you wake up. That you open your eyes. Breathe in the air that surrounds you. Taste the meal. Instead of taking a pic to show you matter.

Embrace the moment you find yourself in right now. Friend. You matter. You are valuable. You are priceless and do not need to prove yourself by making sure everyone knows you know what you’re supposed to know.

We find ourselves in a sea of information that has become mere white noise and it has put us to sleep. We have become overwhelmed and incapable of parsing the right from the wrong. The moral from the spin. The apology from the victim.

Wake up! Get. Woke.