by David Gentino
"You will frequently find both in the decrees of synods and in ancient writers that all that the church possesses, either in lands or in money, is the patrimony of the poor...if in bad faith [deacons] suppress or waste them, they shall be guilty of blood." - John Calvin, Institutes
John Calvin is always more revolutionary than I expect him to be. Church possessions are the poor’s inheritance and wasteful deacons have blood on their hands. He prescribes half the church’s giving to go to the poor (a fourth to clergy, a fourth to the building). He also denounces bishops from receiving anything beyond “frugal food and clothing." Calvin makes Claiborne look like a consumer.
Our church's deaconate has met twice and is already humming. We have a long way to go, but I’m excited about our trajectory. Her funds are a paltry three percent of the church budget, but truly much of what we’re beginning to do doesn’t cost money, yet.
Our men are focused on building three relationships in the city – near, far, alongside. They’re each to pursue a ministry of mercy with someone near to God (a Christian), far from God (a non-Christian), and bring someone alongside to do it (a disciple). Our thought is, if we get these guys in relationships with people, policies and wisdom and strategy will follow.
We want to raise the office of deacon from the pencil pushing, grounds-keeping role it has become. I don’t know if this is a PCA pandemic or church-in-America-wide but I meet more and more deaconates centered on budgets and buildings. I’m trying to imagine Stephen, the newly elected Spirit-filled deacon in Acts 7 being cornered by the Jerusalem church to set up round tables for the evening’s fellowship dinner. These men weren’t called to set up tables but serve tables – rich fare of bread for the body and Bread of Life for the soul. And Stephen took rocks to the face for the difference.
In a city teeming with hundreds of homeless, deadbeat dads, addicts, alcoholics, unwanted babies, a thriving sex industry, failing schools, refugees, vicious cycles of poverty, we can’t afford to play church. And if we do, our deacons must give an account for the blood on their hands.
by David Gentino
We completed our first membership class for Columbia Presbyterian Church. One hundred and ten people joined earlier this month, covenanting to be disciple-making disciples in a church planting church, submitting to her leadership, pledging to join with one another in unity and fellowship, and carrying each other’s burdens. I couldn’t be more humbled or happy.
There’s a rising sentiment in our culture of a desire to be connected to the universal Church (big ‘C’) without linking into a local church (little ‘c’). The thinking goes something like this: “If I’m a Christian, I’m automatically part of Jesus’ bride the Church, so why bother joining a local fellowship? If Jesus is present where two or three are gathered in his name, can’t I just grab Five Guys with friends and call it church?”
Essentially, this group is after the spiritual reality behind the physical expression. But that’s not how the physically expressed gifts work. That would be like a guy saying he believes wholeheartedly in Baptism; he just doesn’t want to get wet. Or that he’s a huge advocate of the Eucharist, just not lining up for bread and wine. I can imagine thirteen-year-old Ishmael telling Abram he considered himself so spiritually circumcised in his heart, why bother sharpening the flint.
This Platonic quest for spiritual kernels unencumbered by physical husks is unbiblical, dangerous, and weird.
Jesus rose from the dead in the body to reclaim bodies and what we do with bodies. Diving headlong into a local church with time, energy, money, frustration, sweat, misunderstandings, hope – all this done in a time and place is participation in the Church. It’s the only way to participate.
I think that’s the one plausible explanation for Paul risking his neck to plant elder-led local churches in the far corners of the Mediterranean world. Winning converts wasn’t enough. His mission was to see them linked in local bodies, grounded in the Word, and fulfilling the Great Commission together.
If church membership were just the icing on the cake of Christianity, Corinth would have disbanded the moment Paul boarded his ship, Philippi at the first scent of rivalry, and Jerusalem under pressure from Judaizers.
But of course they didn’t. They saw something greater at stake in their midst than themselves. And we do too. We’re excited about taking this journey together as members of a local church.