Here are the practical steps Bro. Jeff mentioned Sunday during his sermon on Christian Friendship.  They are excerpted and lightly modified from Joel Beeke and Michael Haykin’s pamphlet  How Should We Develop Biblical Friendship?  Please don’t miss how the helps on Biblical friendship inform the relationships we form in the covenant community of church membership.

Cultivating Christian Friendship

  1. Talk together. Most friendships begin when one person starts talking to another person whom he does not know. Jerry and Mary White write, “New friendships demand a first move from someone. They don’t erupt spontaneously, nor do they grow without words and communication. New friendships depend upon one person’s willingness to step out and approach another.”33 Don’t wait for someone else to talk to you. Go up to someone, ask a few questions, seek a common interest, get to know the person, and share a little about yourself.

If you feel shy around other people and find it hard to start conversations, remember what the Bible says is true about you. As the Whites have said, the Bible teaches that “God has lovingly created every person with valuable qualities—that includes you!” (Gen. 1:27), and, “We have a responsibility before God to extend our lives to others” (Eph. 2:10).34 You have something to give to others and a stewardship from God to share it.

Build relationships through godly conversation. Don’t talk about your life as if you were a practical atheist, but as you talk about life, constantly acknowledge the Lord of life. Sprinkle your conversations with the salty truth of Christ. And share with your closest friends your spiritual experiences, exercises, sorrows, and joys. Richard Baxter wrote, “The most necessary direction for a fruitful tongue is to get a well-furnished mind, and a holy heart, and to walk with God in holiness yourselves: for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth will speak.”

  1. Listen together – We must pay attention to the person speaking with our eyes, ears, and mind… Listen for more than information. Listen to know a person. Try to understand his or her point of view. Open your heart and let your emotions answer your friend’s. “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” (Rom. 12:15). In so doing, you will become like Jesus Christ, the sympathetic High Priest who is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities,” for He too is human and has suffered (Heb. 4:15)

Remember A good friend listens, with care, much more than they talk.  This is true at all levels of friendship and is true also within the church.

  1. Serve Together – Christian friendship carries an elevated nobility when it rises above merely personal aims and seeks the good of humanity and the glory of Christ. Holmes writes, “Biblical friendship exists when two or more people, bound together by a common faith in Jesus Christ, pursue him and his kingdom with intentionality and vulnerability.”38 Serving lifts our eyes from our natural selfishness, and in a common cause we come to know each other more deeply in both our strengths and weaknesses and to love each other with greater loyalty.
  1. Enjoy Life Together – Friends multiply their joys by sharing them. One of the most basic ways is by eating together. Don’t overspiritualize Christian friendship; two of its most important tools are a fork and a spoon (or chopsticks for some friends). As Christ’s ministry shows, eating together communicates powerful messages of love and social acceptance. When we invite others into our homes for a meal, the acceptance, vulnerability, and self-disclosure of hospitality deepens the joy even further. Friends become as family.
  1. Think Together – Discussing the truths of God is an important way that friends sharpen each other… Help each other to love the Lord with all your minds.

Also, don’t be afraid to debate ideas with brotherly and sisterly love. Have the humility to admit that you are often wrong and need to learn more, and have the courage to speak up for what you believe. Cultivate the kinds of friendships that allow you to disagree, learn from each other in the process, and end the conversation with mutual respect and affection.

  1. Be together. Never underestimate the power of personal presence. When it comes to friendship, there is no substitute for time together. It certainly involves communication, but it aims for communion —sharing life together. Friendship has been defined as “the personal bond of a shared life.”

True friendships take time: it takes time to build into each other ’s lives. The transparency and trust essential to true friendship cannot be established overnight. Other things, lesser goods, need to be sacrificed to develop and maintain genuine friendships.

In life’s crises, the best gift of friendship is just being there. Hobbies, sports, and entertainment mean little at the graveside. When someone suffers profound loss, we sometimes are tempted to stay away because we don’t know what to say. We forget that in the moment of greatest suffering people do not need words as much as companionship. One man recounts,

“I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealings, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly, he said things I knew were true. I was unmoved, except to wish he’d go away. He finally did.

Another came and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask leading questions. He just sat beside me for an hour or more, listened when I said something, ans answered briefly, prayed simply, left. I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go.”

  1. Trust Together – Build trust gradually by proving yourself faithful and giving opportunities to your friend to prove himself faithful to you. That requires you to make yourself vulnerable by revealing your weaknesses, needs, and flaws. Don’t dump your life story on a new friend all at once, but take small steps over time. By developing a history of mutual faithfulness, you develop a foundation of trust on which to build for the future.
  1. Pray Together – Christians often say to each other, “I’ll pray for you.” Why not say, “Let’s pray together right now”? Few things comfort the heart as powerfully as listening to your friend cry out to your God to obtain grace for you in your time of need. Don’t be intimidated about praying out loud. It does not need to be a long, theologically eloquent prayer, just a sincere prayer offered with love for a friend and with faith in Jesus Christ. Sometimes a simple, “Gracious heavenly Father, please be near to my friend and help her because she’s really hurting,” is all that it is needed.
  1. Repent Together – We need to speak both law and gospel to each other. Robert Kelleman says that true spiritual friends “are like the Puritans who practiced the art of loading the conscience with guilt. Like them, we know that to break the habitual web of sin’s deceit, people need to experience the horrors of their sin against God and others.” At the same time, such friends must be skilled in “the art of lightening the conscience with grace,” for, “forgiveness by grace is the dynamic God uses not only to cleanse our lives, but also to change our love. Christ woos us back to God by grace.
  1. Hope Together – One of the blessings of Christian friendship is to encourage each other to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and the coming of His kingdom. After Paul described what Christ’s coming will mean for believers, he wrote, “Comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:18). Whether we are old or young, healthy or diagnosed with a terminal illness, we all need to be reminded that this world is not our home, but we have a place in the Father ’s house. We are to be “exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:25). Hope gives us patience, perseverance, and joy.

The following is an article from Russell Moore, formerly of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and currently the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, from FaithStreet.com‘s blog OnFaith. You can read more from Dr. Moore in his forthcoming Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel.

10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Southern Baptists

Are Southern Baptists even Southern? Why don’t they baptize babies? And more.

  1. Westboro Baptist Church isn’t one of us.

Sometimes people assume when they see Westboro Baptist Church with its hateful signs, picketing, and protesting that this church is one of ours. It isn’t. As a matter of fact, Westboro pickets us, too, most years. They reject what we believe is the core of our belief — that the gospel is offered to all persons — and instead they believe that God delights in condemnation and damnation.

We are a missionary people, who want to see everyone — including people who hate us — reconciled to God through the gospel. That’s why, when I have reason to write about the group, I usually do so with the Westboro Baptist (sic) Church (sic). If I lived in a place called “Westboro,” I would probably add a third sic.

  1. We emphasize hellfire and brimstone, but probably not how you think.

Southern Baptists — like all orthodox Christians — believe in a coming Day of Judgment. Like Jesus and John the Baptist, we warn people of the eternal consequences of their spiritual decisions. But some think that Southern Baptists think the judgment of God is reserved for people who don’t believe or behave like we do. That’s far from true.

One of the first things we learn as children is that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That includes us, and when we speak of “sinners,” we are speaking about all human beings (except for One notable exception).

  1. We are defined by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is good news.

We share our faith with our neighbors and send missionaries all over the world because we believe that God has made a way for sinful humanity to be reconciled to God. We believe Jesus took on our humanity, died under the curse we incurred with our sin, was raised from the dead, and stands now as our High Priest before the throne of God.

Our lives are hidden in Christ, so that his cross is our cross, his life is our life. We are forgiven of sin, but this is not just some sort of amnesty for the afterlife. In Christ, God has adopted us as his children, and we are named “joint heirs” with Jesus so that his future is our future — and it is more than we could even imagine right now.

This sort of peace with God is offered to anyone, no matter who that person is or what he or she has done, on the condition of repentance from sin and faith in Christ. When we’re not as joyful as we ought to be, it’s because we need to be reminded of how good it is to be those who were lost and are now found.

This commitment to the gospel is why Southern Baptists, through their International Mission Board, support 4,734 international missionaries around the world and why the North American Mission Board supports 5,611 missionaries, not to mention 3,600 Southern Baptist chaplains who serve in the U.S. military.

It’s why when there’s a disaster — whether it’s Hurricane Sandy or the Nepal earthquake or a famine in Africa — Southern Baptists are among the first in and the last out to minister to those affected.

  1. Southern Baptists are committed to a believers’ church.

We don’t baptize babies because we believe that people come into the Body of Christ not by physical birth but by a new birth that takes place when one is joined to Christ in repentance and faith. Baptism, for us, is a sign of our identification with Jesus in death, burial, and resurrection.

That has implications for how we admit members to our churches — only those who profess personal faith in Christ and who follow him in baptism and in how we hold one another accountable in our churches to live lives that reflect the lordship of Christ.

  1. We don’t agree on everything, but we’re more united than you might think.

Many think Baptists are always fighting, and there’s some truth to that. We were birthed, after all, in dissent from established churches and we’ve lived through all sorts of controversies, so there’s a fighting side to us.

That said, Southern Baptists are unified around a common theology. We believe, for instance, that the Bible is completely true and is the Word of God. Our theological consensus is found in our Baptist Faith and Message statement.

There are lots of other secondary issues where Baptists happily agree to disagree. We all believe in the Second Coming of Jesus, but we don’t all see eye-to-eye on the timing of the Rapture, and so forth. We all believe in both the sovereignty of God and in the responsibility of human beings, but we don’t all agree on how those two fit together.

We gladly join together across such differences to affirm primary doctrines together and to work together through our funding mechanism (we call it the “Cooperative Program”) to send missionaries, plant churches, and train future leaders.

  1. Lots of us aren’t “Southern.”

The name “Southern Baptist Convention” can confuse people who assume that this means we are limited to the states below the Mason-Dixon line. That was true at our founding, but isn’t true at all now. There are Southern Baptist churches in all 50 states. That’s why you might be surprised to meet a Southern Baptist from Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine who doesn’t say y’all or like sweet tea.

Our geographical diversity had led us several times to consider changing our name, but we decided against it because the name “Southern Baptist” has “brand identification” in American life, distinguishing us from some other groups.

Think of it the way you would an airline. Southwest doesn’t just take you to Arizona or New Mexico, and Delta doesn’t just take you to Louisiana or Mississippi. The name tells you about a history, and doesn’t describe boundaries.

  1. There are some things in our past we’re ashamed of.

When I say that we are all sinners, I don’t just mean that all of us individually have a past. Sin expresses itself through structures and systems, too — and the SBC is not exempt from that.

The SBC was founded over the issue of human slavery — precisely over the question of whether slaveholders would be appointed as missionaries. It’s not just that the SBC was on the wrong side of the issue on that, we were on the wrong side of the Bible, on the wrong side of the gospel, on the wrong side of Jesus.

Some brave Christians — some Southern Baptist, many not — prevailed by showing that white supremacy is directly contradictory to what Southern Baptists profess to believe, that all persons are made in the image of God and that the gospel reconciles us to God and with one another.

  1. We’re more ethnically diverse than you might think.

Among the fastest growing demographics in the Southern Baptist life are African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American congregations. The most vibrant of our churches often include many languages and ethnic groups.

Though positive steps have happened, it’s not good enough for many of us, since we believe the church is designed to be a preview of the coming kingdom of God, a kingdom that is made up of those from every tribe, tongue, nation, and language. Most of the Body of Christ, on earth as well is in heaven, isn’t white and has never spoken English.

We celebrate our growing diversity, including seminary programs intentionally training the next generation of ethnic minority leadership, even as we note that we have far yet to go. With every year that passes, we have more and more salsa at our church potlucks, and we like it that way.

  1. We believe in religious liberty for everyone, not just ourselves.

Baptists began as a persecuted people, hunted from our homes in England and later colonial America because of our convictions. Many of our heroes were in prison for preaching the gospel.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is there because of the persistent agitation of those such as Virginia Baptist preacher John Leland, who demanded full religious liberty for everyone — believers and unbelievers.

Because of what we believe about the gospel, we don’t think a state-coerced faith is a genuine faith. And because we believe that each person must give an account, personally, before the Judgment Seat of Christ, we don’t support any king, dictator, legislature, or bureaucrat inhibiting anyone’s free exercise of religion. Jesus taught us to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s — and the conscience doesn’t belong to Caesar.

  1. Authority goes to autonomous churches governed by Christ, not a hierarchy.

Some churches and denominations have decisions made at the top — by bishops or other leaders — and these decisions filter down to the churches. Our decisions go the other way. We think every church — no matter where or what its size — is governed by Jesus through his Word and by his gifts and is free from dictation by any other church or by some religious bureaucracy.

This commitment to what we call “the autonomy of the local church” shows up even in our annual meeting. Any “messenger” — someone sent from our churches — can make any motion or come to a microphone and say anything. This leads to unpredictability because our meetings aren’t scripted and choreographed in some “headquarters.”

That’s why the SBC was able to turn around from its direction toward theological liberalism in the 1970s and 1980s toward orthodox, evangelical conviction. The people had the final say.

Southern_Baptist_Convention_logo1

Here’s a great piece from Michael J. Kruger, President and Samuel C. Patterson Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC.  The focus is on identifying the polity of early churches.  Dr. Kruger’s scholarship is excellent but he has perhaps overlooked the repeated emphasis on the congregation showing their approval of elder candidates through voting (as seen in Baptist churches).

Were Early Churches Ruled by Elders or a Single Bishop?

There is a (seemingly) never-ending debate amongst theologians and pastors about the proper form of government for the church.  For generations, Christians have disagreed about what leadership structure the church ought to use.  From the bishop-led Anglicans to the informal Brethren churches, there is great diversity.

And one of the fundamental flash points in this debate is the practice of the early church.  What form of government did the earliest Christians have?  Of course, early Christian polity is a vast and complex subject with many different issues in play.  But, I want to focus in upon a narrow one: Were the earliest churches ruled by a plurality of elders or a single bishop?

Now it needs to be noted from the outset that by the end of the second century, most churches were ruled by a single bishop. For whatever set of reasons, monepiscopacy had won the day. Many scholars attribute this development to Ignatius.

But, what about earlier? Was there a single-bishop structure in the first and early second century?

The New Testament evidence itself seems to favor a plurality of elders as the standard model. The book of Acts tells us that as the apostles planted churches, they appointed “elders” (from the Greek term πρεσβυτέρος) to oversee them (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2; 20:17). Likewise, Titus is told to “appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1:5).

A very similar word, ἐπι,σκoπος (“bishop” or “overseer”), is used in other contexts to describe what appears to be the same ruling office (Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:1-7). The overlap between these two terms is evident in Acts 20:28 when Paul, while addressing the Ephesian “elders” (πρεσβυτέρους), declares that “The Holy Spirit has made you overseers (ἐπισκόπους).” Thus, the New Testament writings indicate that the office of elder/bishop is functionally one and the same.

But, what about the church after the New Testament?  Did they maintain the model of multiple elders?  Three quick examples suggest they maintained this structure at least for a little while:

1. At one point, the Didache addresses the issue of church government directly, “And so, elect for yourselves bishops (ἐπισκόπους) and deacons who are worthy of the Lord, gentle men who are not fond of money, who are true and approved” (15.1). It is noteworthy that the author mentions plural bishops—not a single ruling bishop—and that he places these bishops alongside the office of deacon, as Paul himself does (e.g., Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:1-13). Thus, as noted above, it appears that the bishops described here are essentially equivalent to the office of “elder.”

2. A letter known as 1 Clement (c.96) also has much to say about early church governance. This letter is attributed to a “Clement”—whose identity remains uncertain—who represents the church in Rome and writes to the church at Corinth to deal with the fallout of a recent turnover in leadership. The author is writing to convince (not command) the Corinthians to reinstate its bishops (elders) who were wrongly deposed. The letter affirms the testimony of the book of Acts when it tells us that the apostles initially appointed “bishops (ἐπισκόπους) and deacons” in the various churches they visited (42.4). After the time of the apostles, bishops were appointed “by other reputable men with the entire church giving its approval” (44.3). This is an echo of the Didache which indicated that bishops were elected by the church.

3. The Shepherd of Hermas (c.150) provides another confirmation of this governance structure in the second century. After Hermas writes down the angelic vision in a book, he is told, “you will read yours in this city, with the presbyters who lead the church” (Vis. 8.3).Here we are told that the church leadership structure is a plurality of “presbyters” (πρεσβυτέρων) or elders. The author also uses the term “bishop,” but always in the plural and often alongside the office of deacon (Vis. 13.1; Sim. 104.2).

In sum, the NT texts and texts from the early second century indicate that a plurality of elders was the standard structure in the earliest stages. But, as noted above, the idea of a singular bishop began to dominate by the end of the second century.

What led to this transition? Most scholars argue that it was the heretical battles fought by the church in the second century that led them to turn to key leaders to defend and represent the church.

This transition is described remarkably well by Jerome himself:

The presbyter is the same as the bishop, and before parties had been raised up in religion by the provocations of Satan, the churches were governed by the Senate of the presbyters. But as each one sought to appropriate to himself those whom he had baptized, instead of leading them to Christ, it was appointed that one of the presbyters, elected by his colleagues, should be set over all the others, and have chief supervision over the general well-being of the community. . . Without doubt it is the duty of the presbyters to bear in mind that by the discipline of the Church they are subordinated to him who has been given them as their head, but it is fitting that the bishops, on their side, do not forget that if they are set over the presbyters, it is the result of tradition, and not by the fact of a particular institution by the Lord (Comm. Tit. 1.7).

Jerome’s comments provide a great summary of this debate.  While the single-bishop model might have developed for practical reasons, the plurality of elders model seems to go back to the very beginning.