Book Review of Churches Partnering Together

Chris Bruno and Matt Dirks. Churches Partnering Together. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014, 176 pp. $15.99.

 

Do you feel isolated in your pastoral role? Do you long to do more in your community for Christ but lack the resources to do so? Do you desire greater unity with churches in your area? If so, then Churches Partnering Together by Chris Bruno and Matt Dirks might be just the book for you. In Churches Partnering Together the authors seek to lay out how churches can partner together for the glory of God to accomplish far more than they ever could on their own. They call these church partnerships “Kingdom Partnerships” and they specify that a kingdom partnership must be gospel-driven, interdependent, and God-glorifying.

These three qualities of a kingdom partnership are essential to the health and long term well-being of a partnership. By gospel-driven the authors specify that the partnership must center around the gospel and agree on important doctrinal issues, it cannot be a lowest common denominator ecumenical fellowship or it will fall apart. The churches must be interdependent and no one should try to strike their own path. And most importantly, the partnership must agree to seek God’s Glory above all else.

    The book serves it’s purpose well and provides a step-by-step guide on establishing and running a kingdom partnership. The authors show the qualities necessary for each member of the partnership and lay out the groundwork for how churches work together with limited resources. This excellent little book can serve many pastors and Christian leaders well by reshaping their minds away from a “my” ministry mentality to an “us” ministry mentality. The authors rightly emphasize the abundant possibilities that exist for global kingdom partnerships. Churches in America can partner globally with churches in Africa, South America, Asia, and Europe to provide a mutually beneficial partnership whereby many congregations are blessed and God is ultimately glorified.

Universal Guilt

Have you ever wondered what will happen to people who never hear the gospel? Is it fair that they are condemned when they never had a chance to believe in Jesus? This is a serious problem; if God condemns someone unjustly then He is an unjust God and should not be worshipped. How do we resolve this dilemma? Let’s take a look at what the Bible says about the creation of man and woman. “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Genesis 2:7 ESV)

Here God breathes life into the man and “God [makes] man upright…” (Ecclesiastes 7:29 ESV) Romans 2:15 states that “They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness” (Romans 2:15 ESV) All people all over the world show day after day they know God’s law. Every time someone tells the truth they are acknowledging that God has placed knowledge of His law in their hearts. And so what we see is that God shows day to day the sin of all people through their own actions. “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.” (Romans 2:14 ESV)

Now you are probably thinking, okay everyone knows what right and wrong is but we know we can’t keep the law that’s why Jesus came so how can God still condemn those people who have not heard of Jesus? What we need to realize is that along with placing knowledge of right and wrong in humans God has also placed knowledge of Himself. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” (Romans 1:19-20 ESV) See every single human being knows that God exists and “although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:21-23 ESV)

All of humanity is guilty before God, they know when they do right and they know when they do wrong, their conscience bears witness against them that they are sinful and under condemnation. Those people who never heard the gospel are just as guilty as the rest of humanity and deserve the just condemnation of God. If those people cannot be condemned because they’ve never heard the gospel then missions is the worst thing we can do for lost people in other countries. If they can’t be condemned then we should not do missions. However, we know that’s not the case, all of humanity is under God’s condemnation and needs to hear the good news of the gospel that is why God ordained His church to do mission work and preach the gospel. This is why you reading this article should be motivated to do missions! People need to hear the good news of the gospel so that they may be saved, as Paul said, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:14-15 ESV)

How Predestination Motivates and Empowers Evangelism

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

-Matthew 28:19-20

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

-Romans 8:7-8

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

-1 Corinthians 2:14

There is a serious problem presented to us in these verses. We are commanded to go and make disciples of all nations. But we are told that sinners will not submit to God, “indeed it (their minds) cannot.” Furthermore we learn that the natural person “is not able to understand…” the things of God. How can Christians possibly make disciples of all nations when sinful man will reject and ridicule the Gospel message? Is evangelism hopeless?

Evangelism is hopeless if God’s sovereign grace through predestination did not breathe life into the dead heart of the unbeliever. Scripture clearly states: “…you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…” -Ephesians 2:1-2. Can a corpse decide to live again? The obvious answer is NO, it cannot! So how can something dead live? “But God…because of the great love with which he loved us…made us alive together with Christ…” –Ephesians 2:4-5. Through sharing the gospel God creates life in the dead heart of the unbeliever and raises them to life.

Now some say that believing in God’s sovereign power to convert the lost kills evangelism. However the opposite is actually the case, belief in the all-powerful sovereign saving God gives the greatest motivation to do evangelism. If the conversion of the sinner is our job and relies on us then we will use methods that appeal to the sinner. We will give them a gospel that says: “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” And guess what; hundreds of God-hating sinners flock to our churches to hear that message.

Not trusting in the sovereignty of God in evangelism makes us man-pleasers not God-pleasers. J. I. Packer makes this excellent point: “Apart from it(the sovereign grace of God in conversion), there is not even a possibility of evangelism being fruitful. Were it not for the sovereign grace of God, evangelism would be the most futile and useless enterprise that the world has ever seen, and there would be no more complete waste of time under the sun than to preach the Christian gospel.”1

Belief in God’s sovereign grace to convert the sinner motivates and empowers us in four ways. First of all it gives us confidence to share the gospel because we know that when we share it God WILL save people. Second, it makes us bold because we know that God is in control and guides us in our evangelistic efforts. Third, it makes us patient because God could convert someone at any moment, so we do not lose hope. Last, it makes us more prayerful, since God is the one who converts the sinner we cry out to him day and night to save people. My prayer is that God opens your eyes to the beauty of His sovereign grace and the power it gives you in evangelism.

1 J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God(Downer Groves, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1961), 116.