Principles SFMI Believes Are Important
Since its beginning The Shield of Faith has considered the work of the Lord a non-competitive arena; those who preach the true gospel are members of the same body, with the same head, proclaiming the same kingdom. They are neither competitors nor adversaries, but co-workers. However, we hold certain distinctives. Let’s consider some of those principles that we feel are important to conserve.
1. The New Testament Church Vision.
It is too late for us to “start” a work. God is there before us, and we can only do what he is already engaged in. When God’s plan is finally finished, it will be a church from every kindred, tongue, people and nation without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. It will be an assembly of redeemed sons of God, perfectly conformed to the image of Christ who is himself the express image of God the Father.
Church simply means called out. It consists of those who were called out of this world’s societies when they heard his voice in the preaching of the Gospel, which is the word of God by which men and women become saved. The church, therefore, exists wherever the Gospel has been “heard.” If God, then, sends one of his saints to a land or a place where there are no believers, he is the first member of the church in that place. His mandate is to preach the Gospel. Those who hear and in whom faith is born are added to the church. God began the work before that saint arrived.
We, the saints are, so to speak, the bacteria of an infectious, beneficial (anti) disease that travels around the world wherever we go. Our work is to infect, not to cure. But we must be perfectly clear about the Gospel we preach and what the Bible teaches about what the church is and how it operates. Somehow, as Jesus taught, there must be a sharp line drawn between the commandments of God and the traditions of men. The former addresses the problem, the latter contributes to it.
Many godly men in the previous generation with whose latter years our early years have overlapped shared their observations, denounced encroaching errors, cried out their alarming prognostications and described in negative terms the conditions the present church largely embraces as the spiritual norm. What we do not want to do is dismiss their anointed warnings as the paranoid ranting of old men who felt threatened by change. These were men, like Israel’s prophets, who tried to call the church to repentance. We want to be among those who have heard that call and responded appropriately.
In our vision for “New Testament Church” principles, it would be counter-productive to perpetuate, or leave unmolested, the tradition of a clergy-laity system in newly birthed congregations that God may allow us to influence or oversee. It must be clear, according to our analogy of bacteria spreading a beneficial (anti) disease, that we are all bacteria and equally infectious. Although there is, of necessity, oversight by a plurality of appointed elders, there are no lords over God’s people. Every child of God, being gifted, must learn to be led by the Spirit of God and have liberty within the context of the assembly to minister accordingly. He must learn to exercise forbearance, longsuffering, self-control and submission to authority in order that the Holy Spirit can coordinate the corporate ministry of the assembly without the exercise of legalistic controls.
Part of today’s error in the modern church is in the interpretation of words. “Synonyms”, which are not synonyms at all, are misused in describing legitimate parts of church order. These non-synonyms include: entertain/edify; worship/music; Christian/disciple; pastor/elder; obedience/legalism; attendance/participation. Most of this linguistic tangle can be shaken out if we carefully apply the word of God. In any case, it is important that we do not carry the seeds of our home-grown syncretism in our baggage.
2. Verbal Inspiration of Scripture and the unnecessity of multiplied versions.
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by EVERY WORD that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” If every word of scripture is inspired, the preservation of those words, insofar as is possible, when translating from one language to another is imperative.
The modern method of dynamic equivalence would seem to demonstrate that the words are not as important as are the ideas they formulate. Often, however, in the interpretation of ideas the point is missed or nuances of the idea are overlooked, and the idea written by the translator is not the same as the thought intended by the author. As a result, a distortion is produced.
In 1611, translators produced what we know as the KJV. For the next 350 years it was recognized in the English-speaking world as “The Bible.” Its authority was unquestioned in the church; and even the world regarded it as a weighty document whose precepts commanded respect. It was the moral foundation of the Western world.
Of course the truth has always had its antagonists, and in the nineteenth century a godless element among religious German intellectuals mounted an aggressive undertaking to dispel the moral restraints of God’s word. (Psalm 2). This movement of biblical higher criticism sought to poison the well by casting doubt upon the authority of scripture. They accomplished their objective by revising the Greek text of the New Testament, and from that revision producing a new version of English scripture. With the aid of the revised manuscripts and the method of dynamic equivalence, since 1950 more than one hundred and thirty revisions of the Bible have been produced, each one moving us a little farther from the original words recorded by holy men of God who were moved by the Holy Ghost.
The common excuse for this constant revision is “to make the scriptures more easily understood by keeping the language up-to-date.” But it is ludicrous to believe that each new translation is justified by language change. What has been accomplished, however, is the almost total dismissal of the Bible as any kind of authority, historical, scientific, or moral. It has become simply another piece of religious literature among many.
One of our responsibilities is to contribute to the promotion of a renewed confidence in the Word of God; not by denouncing the insipid but popular versions that are so widely used, or those that use them, but by using exclusively the AV and encouraging by example its use by others. It should be our authority and our tool, and we should be able to confidently explain why when asked.
3. Principle of Faith
Jesus was no ordinary man. At the age of thirty, He laid aside his carpentry tools and began to preach the gospel of the kingdom of God. He called men to follow him to a life that their peers neither embraced nor understood. They were called to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” trusting that all necessary things would be added unto them.They went forth in obedience to his commandment depending upon his promise. Never had their means of support been so reliable or its source so inexhaustible.
Two things contributed to their ability to get the work done: one was hearing his voice, thereby knowing it was his will; and the other was being assured of his promise to sustain their obedience with his provision. They did not need to know HOW it would come, but only WHO would provide it.
As a mission, we want our work to have the same seal upon it and to be evidence that the Lord Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. Ours is not an enterprise about which there is nothing of the supernatural. Our plans are not our own, neither are our methods. This does not mean we should not be business-like or thoughtful about how we do the work he has assigned us, but it should mean that what we are engaged in is obviously his work and could not be done unless he were doing it. Each of us must be committed to dependency upon the Lord himself.
4. Defining a Missionary
The word missionary is never used in the Bible. The biblical title is apostle.
There are actually three kinds of apostles mentioned in scripture. Two of those kinds are unique; they will never be duplicated. The third kind defines what we call missionaries.
An apostle is a "sent one;" The premiere apostle was the Lord Jesus Christ. He is called the high priest and apostle of our profession. The commission for which he was sent, and which he accomplished, was to reconcile us to God, once for all. The second kind of apostle was depicted in the twelve disciples that Jesus chose to follow him, whom he called apostles. They, along with the prophets, became the foundation of the Church, They are unique and irreplaceable.
The third kind is they who are sent out by the Holy Spirit from the churches to proclaim the Gospel to every creature and make disciples in every nation. This is an on going breed that will continue to multiply until every nation has heard the Gospel witness; and then shall the end come. Today we call these missionaries.
The word defines the man it describes. A missionary is a man on a mission. He must know what that mission is. When a missionary has defined his mission, he must then have a commitment to fulfilling it, an unshakeable dedication.
Some common conceptions that people have of missionaries are superficial because they are simplistic observations of what their subjects were doing at some specific isolated juncture of their work. Paul made tents for a period of time in Corinth; was that what Paul's mission consisted of, making tents? During another period he taught for two years in a school. Was he, then, a school teacher?
Those things that may occupy the missionary's time from day to day, whether he is a pilot, a doctor, a mechanic or a teacher, do not define a mission or a missionary. Sometimes, for some people, those things tend to obscure the real substance of his mission; and sometimes that's true of even the missionary himself.
The work of the missionary is redemptive: the proclamation of the Gospel and the demonstration of the life of the Lord Jesus in whatever circumstance he may find himself.
5. Disciple-making Resulting in Churches
The commission that Jesus gave to his disciples was, “Go, and teach all nations (make disciples in every nation), teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” And the promise that accompanied that command was, “And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”
According to the Word of God, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. The Church is the body of Christ; therefore in principle there should be no change from one generation to another. Today, our contemporarily over-used word, especially as regards missions, is “church planting.” The Bible doesn’t say anything about that; it doesn’t have to. That should be the natural outcome of disciple making.
Jesus said, “Make disciples.” The apostle Paul perpetuated the idea by saying, “[teach] faithful men who shall be able to teach others also.” That’s a simple paraphrase of Matthew 28:19,20, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations.” Then they were to baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost and teach them to observe “all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”
A church is like a salad. It contains many ingredients that grow in the garden. Someone planted each of those ingredients, but no one planted salad. The ingredients which, when joined together make a salad, represent disciples which, when built together, make a church.
The farmer doesn’t plant salad; In like manner we don’t plant churches, we make disciples and Jesus builds His church. He is the chef. We are the planters of the seed that produces the ingredients. The church in any place is the assembling of disciples, and the work of the church is making more disciples. But disciples of whom? The goal is disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, sheep who will hear His voice and follow Him. The believers in Antioch were simply disciples before they were known as Christians.
The distinction between “discipling” and “church planting” may seem trivial; but it is important because of the consequences. Time has proven that it is possible to plant “churches” without true disciples, whose vision will often become better buildings, bigger congregations, advantageous affiliations, even, in some cases, denominational competition when as yet the number of believers is so small as to be unnoticed in the national population.
Or we can simply preach the Gospel with the view of making disciples of the Lord Jesus, then teaching those who believe to observe all things that the Lord commanded and trust Him to build His church. Their vision will be to teach faithful men to teach others also, and they are likely to be less hindered by the smallness of their congregation or the lack of buildings or beneficial affiliations.
As in Paul’s day there is still room for concern about the churches and the view some Christians have of “church.” To them it may be something they can stand aside from and point to and expect it to do things that they are not a part of. But the believers are responsible to multiply, to be the example, to set the pace, to demonstrate what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. We are the gifted ones from among whom God calls His apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. We are the church. We are to bring forth fruit after our own kind, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever He has commanded us.
This is not a formality it is a family. People are to be born into it by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost. When they are saved, they are added to the church––not an organization, but an organism.
Our attitude is important, our view of the church, how we see our role and our view of the great commission. What will I do if I go abroad to the mission field, or if I stay home and labor here? Will I make disciples? Or will I plant churches? If I make strong disciples, strong churches will evolve––He will build them. If my view is to plant churches, it does not necessarily follow that there will be strong disciples.
Strong disciples are not those who have merely impeccably orthodox theology. They are those who also cherish godly character, the fruit of the Spirit, grace, forbearance and longsuffering. They are those who present their bodies a living sacrifice holy, acceptable unto God. They are those whose goal is to be not conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of their mind that they might manifest the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Our original approach to the work and what we still teach in the training program involves five “steps,” namely: 1. Evangelism, 2. Follow-up, 3 Conferences, 4. Training, 5 Sending.
Evangelism, includes every legitimate way of getting as much of the word as possible to as many people as possible as often as possible. Its objective is not to get decisions for Christ on the first contact, but to plant the seed of the word line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, that the Holy Spirit might put the message together in their hearts and produce saving faith.
Follow-up includes continued communication, the extending of fellowship, drawing them into Bible studies individually and in groups, baptizing them, teaching them to assemble regularly to break bread, to minister to other believers and to recognize that this is the church.
Conferences bring the churches together to expand their horizons, to encourage vision and cooperation and to build cohesion among the larger body of believers.
Training involves those who catch the vision and sense a specific calling of God to be separated to the work of the Gospel.
Sending is when that calling is recognized by the other saints and they are separated to the work.
This, I believe, should still be our pursuit.