An outline of the Biblical fundamentals, the foundation of our life together, from which we discern together the unique direction that God has for us as His body in Taunton. There are four points (or categories), and all of them flow out from the Life given, offered and received in Jesus Christ:
The central purpose of all leadership in the church is so that every Christian can develop into the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13). This means no longer remaining as spiritual infants tossed back and forth by every wind [of doctrine, culture, media, etc] (Ephesians 4:14-15). It means we all work to the unity of the faith while keeping the unity of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:3-13). It means we grow in truthfulness and love as we grow up into the Head, who is Christ. As a whole Church, Taunton Baptist Church must live and breathe the life of Jesus himself. Only as its members remain connected to him and draw their life from him will they flourish (John 15:1-8).
There is only one true model for the church, and it is Jesus himself (1 Corinthians 11:1). He walks among the churches assessing their spiritual life, rebuking their shortfall and encouraging them to seek the highest things (Revelation 2-3; Colossians 3:1-4). In the end, he has promised to receive the church unto himself as a bride for her husband (2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 19:6-9). The Holy Spirit calls us to this glory (Revelation 22:17), and God assures us that he will accomplish the good work in us that He began (Romans 8:28-39)!
What follows flows from the great truth and power of Jesus Christ.
Today, as in every age, there are many spins on the Good News of Jesus Christ. Sometimes the Gospel is presented as a ‘Self-help’ or a means to gain material prosperity. At other times, in order to try and find a way to speak winsomely or inoffensively to a culturally diverse and savvy audience, the message of the New Testament can be stripped of some of its most essential qualities and power. Biblical categories such as sin, judgment, morality, even the call to radical discipleship, can be toned down, accommodated, softened. In some churches, even the cross as the symbol of Christianity can be absent. Worse, some Churches neither use or reference the Bible itself!
The Gospel as it comes to us in the New Testament, on the other hand, is centred on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, by which he defeats the powers of sin and death (Romans 1:16-17). We must understand that the “whole gospel” will never be the good news it was intended, if as humans, we fail to recognise our present alienation from God and our powerlessness to make right in ourselves (Romans 3:9, 3:23; 5:6). When we, sinners under condemnation, cast ourselves on Christ our Good Shepherd who carries us to the Father who loves us, we receive the Good News that in his death he rescues us from death and sets us apart as his ‘called out’ people (Romans 4:16, 22-25). As a whole church, Taunton Baptist Church must always keep the Cross central (Galatians 6:14). Always, we must preach the whole Gospel – the same Gospel embodied in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and preached throughout the Ancient Greco-Roman world by the bewildered yet fearless apostles (1 John 1:1-4).
The local church, what I called the ‘called out’ ones above, is the immediate environment in which such wholeness comes about. By describing the church as a body (1 Corinthians 12:12-13), the New Testament links us in faithfulness to other believers in the same body, where we support and care for each other – hurting together, rejoicing together, nurturing each other and growing together (1 Corinthians 12:26). This metaphor speaks of a deep sense of loyalty to each other, borne of the truth that the Church is the Body of Christ, and that not only do our physical bodies matter, but that Christ also nourishes His body, the Church.
Each member of the body is uniquely gifted and offers his or her spiritual gifts for the blessing and benefit (building up) of the whole. The range of such gifts is diverse, from teaching and preaching, to encouraging and serving, to meeting the needs of others, to leading and governing, and to generosity and mercy (Romans 12:3-8). Together, every believer is joined to every other believer like the ligaments of a leg or arm, and each Christian contributes to the health and growth of the whole (Ephesians 4:16).
Fellowship – the art of living life together – is the vehicle that carries us towards wholeness, not only of the individual, but of the congregation/community (Ephesians 4:1-6). This aspect of church life results in a healing community for other believers who are wounded in many and various ways and degrees (Hebrews 12:12-13). As a whole church, Taunton Baptist Church must always remain in the tough, time-consuming ministry of healing lives, of those that are obvious, and those that have not even recognised their wound(s).
Accepting the Gospel by faith is not the end but the beginning of a new life in Christ (Galatians 3:3; 5:7; Philippians 1:6). The eternal purpose of God is to bring each believer into alignment with the character of His Son, or as Paul puts it, to attain “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). God’s will for us as Christians is not the upward mobility of social advancement and material gain as sometimes the church has proclaimed. Rather, God’s will is always for us to follow Christ – and everyone he calls is called to pick up their cross. This was a non-negotiable imperative of Jesus (Matthew 16:24-25).
Wholeness as defined by the Bible is almost entirely at odds with the secular world’s notions of fulfilment (1 John 2:15-17). As a fellowship for wholeness, the people at Taunton Baptist Church must always remember that God’s purpose in saving them is that they might become like Him. In this process of “becoming,” we advance from “glory to glory,” fixing our vision not merely on what can be seen, measured and observed through our senses and interpreted through our experiences and abilities, but on the transcendent: what is unseen and eternal (2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:16-18). During our lifetimes, we confess alongside the Apostle Paul, that we have not already attained all this (Philippians 3:12a), since none of us are yet perfected, complete, or even whole, because in this life, we “see through a mirror dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Nevertheless, Paul also says, we “press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of us” (Philippians 3:12b-14). As people on the path toward wholeness, we offer ourselves to His service, no longer conforming to the world’s ways, but allowing God to transform us from the inside out (Romans 12:1-2).
Every local church functions as part of the universal church across space and time (Ephesians 2:19-22). No local church is an island unto itself (1 Corinthians 4:7), no matter how insistent the church is, since a church unconnected to the universal church isn’t a church in the way the Bible talks about being Church.
When God looks at the church, he sees people and congregations (1 Corinthians 1:2) being made into the image of Christ. Obviously, we will have more in common than others, we must always remember that God does not use out criteria by which to judge others, but rather, His own perfect knowledge as Lord of the Church (Matthew 7:1-5).
With cooperative effort in missions, in fellowship, and through the unity of the body, we seek to express the “catholicity” (universality) of the whole global, historical Church. Therefore, as a Whole Church congregation in Taunton, we must also see ourselves in the context of this larger vision (John 17: 20-26).
“Be confident of this: He who began a good work in us, will bring it to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)