Fatherhood, authority, and longevity in one church...

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Growing up, the Baylys had only three churches and the Taylors simply one. Soon after they were married, my parents moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts where they made Boston’s Park Street Church their home. Some years later when they moved to Philly and made Blue Church their home. Fifteen or so years later they moved to Chicago and made College Church their home. It was College Church where Mary Lee and I met. From the forties when Dad and Mom Taylor moved to Wheaton, College Church has always been the Taylors home—right up to this present day. At ninety-nine years old, Mom and her two children who live in Wheaton faithfully attend worship there each Lord’s Day. (Also a number of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.)

In other words, neither the Baylys nor the Taylors ever changed churches unless a move required it. Think about that for a second. How long have you submitted to your present church?

You’re a bit surprised I put the question that way, aren’t you? “Submit” to a church? Few of us think in these terms...

A church is a place we go to be religious—not to submit. It’s the building where we attend worship—not the household of faith we obey. Church is encouragement, fellowship, didactic downloads, and the weekly dose of grace through bread and wine—not exhortations, admonitions, instruction, and corrections. Church is the weekly reassurance of our pastor that God’s grace is bigger than we could ever imagine, and that nothing we can do could ever jeopardize it. Church should never be orders from God to us.

God’s authority is absent in the church, today, and this is intentional. If our church were to exhort us, admonish us, or correct us, let alone discipline us, we’d be gone in a heartbeat. So the church’s officers make sure not to do it, themselves, and not to allow anyone else to do it, either—neither God nor man.

So now, back to my question: How long have you submitted to your present church?

Surely I don’t have to prove to you that submission is something all of us should have required of us by our church, do I? The entire New Testament is a living demonstration of the authority of Jesus Christ and His Church, starting with Jesus’ parables about, for instance, the wicked tenants who refused to give the proceeds of the vineyard to the Owner or His Son; then moving on to the Apostle Peter’s command authority in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost; then to the deaths of Ananias and Saphira; and so on. If you need more proof of the centrality of authority for Biblical church life, read this from Hebrews:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17)

Our pastor in Cebu City last Lord's Day pointed out that everyone thinks they submit to God despite not submitting to the church, and that it's impossible to do the first if we refuse to do the second.

So how long have you submitted to your present church?

For most of you, I’m guessing you have one of two answers: either you have only been at your present church for a few years and you started going there because you had left a previous church where you were no longer satisfied; or you have been at your church for a very long time and have no intention of leaving it because it never commands you to do anything other than not bring coffee into the sanctuary and trust God’s grace. If one or the other of these things is true of you, it means you have never submitted to your present church. It also likely means that if your present church got a new pastor who began to preach to your cocnscience and make application of God’s Word to your life, or got new elders who called you personally to repent of some specific sin, you’d be outta there in a heartbeat. In a heartbeat, I tell you.

So really, why should your sons and daughters obey you or their mother when they see you refusing to obey God? Which is to say when they see right through your choice of a church, watching you choose a church you know will never command you to be holy or repent or do good works or confess your faith in any hostile environment?

Over decades of ministry, I’ve watched some families walk away from the church when their own sins and the sins of their children became visible, and their officers called them to repentance. We’re not talking about the sins of smoking, drinking, or bringing coffee into the sanctuary, either. We’re talking about bitterness, homosexuality, theft, incest, lying, and pride, for instance. Regardless of the sin, families think nothing of skipping out rather than obeying their leaders and submitting to them, for those leaders are keeping watch over their souls as those who will give an account. And this despite every last one of them having taken membership vows to submit to the government and discipline of the church. It makes me tremble for them. Do they not know that the power of the keys Christ gave His Church is no joke?

What happens when they rebel against the authority of their elders and leave the church?

First, they choose a church whose reputation is well-known in town for being low commitment, meaning a church where the preaching is Biblical esoterica with no calls to repentance, the fellowship is sporadic and only for those who feel a need for it, and they can trust the elders to be clueless and silent about their sins and the sins of their children.


Then second, they set up a meeting with the pastor of their new church in which they give heartfelt explanations to him of how they are victims of legalism in their former church, and now they just want a place to heal. Whatever the details, it’s all merely lies intended to cover for their rebellion against God. But they tell these lies with impunity, not worrying one second about being caught because they know their new pastor loves to hear lies about other pastors from flatterers. He loves hearing what a breath of fresh air his preaching is, how deeply wounded people were until they found him, how sensitive he is to their needs, how much they love his dear wife, how their kids loooove his church’s youth group, how they all fee they finally have found a place they can heal, how he’s created an environment through his personality that feels like such a safe place, what a breath of fresh air his preaching is, how wonderful it is to hear about God’s unending grace for sinners, how enouraged they are, how much they wish all the people oppressed in their former church could hear him and experience the freedom in Christ they’ve experienced since switching to his church… Shall I go on?

But again, the whole thing is flattery and lies to cover up their rebellion. Fact is, their family was caught in incest and they refused to repent, but that’s the one thing their new pastor will never hear. In fact, he has perfectly tuned his church from top to bottom, Sunday morning through Saturday night, pastoral care to preaching, so that neither he nor anyone else in his church will ever know anything about the sins of the sheep in his flock. So it’s the perfect church home for proud rebels under God’s judgment.

Do you want to be a good father? Do you want to raise obedient sons and daughters? Do you want to give joy to your dear wife?

Find a church that preaches to the conscience and applies God’s Word, Find a church in which the elders know the sins of their flock and admonish as well as encourage, correct as well as exhort, rebuke as well as restore. Find a church where the incest, adultery, fornication, pride, and greed that are in every last church are actually known and named and censured. Also forgiven. Find a church that’s for the blind, not those who claim they can see. The sinners, not those who claim to be righteous. The weak, not those who think they’re strong. The church that has the power of God rather than the form of godliness.

Then vow to submit to them and stay for life. As long as sin is visible and cared for, never ever leave—especially when it’s your sin and the sin of your children.

I once heard someone say there is no better predictor of growth in godliness than a longterm commitment to love and live in one church. He was right.


Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!