Adam Nesmith

Church is More Than a Sunday Morning Sermon

Come to Church with these three mindsets. Body Mindset you aren’t there to just listen to a Sunday morning sermon, you are there to interact with a dynamic body of Saints. Warfare Mindset you go to Church to get equipped by the Word of God to go out and live for His glory throughout the week. Eschatological Mindset your Church, no matter how small, is a part of God’s cosmic plan of redemption. As you cultivate these perspectives, you will find how you think about Church will change from something static and dull to something glorious and exciting.

When you hear the word “Church” what image pops into your head? A sanctuary full of pews? Pews filled with people? People with their Bible’s open listening to God’s Word? “Church” is most commonly used to describe the Sunday morning sermon and accompanying service. You go to Church in order to hear a sermon.
But the Church is so much more than a Sunday morning sermon. In fact, if you equate Church to a worship service between the hours of 10-12 am, then you are going to miss out on a lot of the joy and excitement that the Church is. In this post, I give you a three “mindsets” to develop. Each will help expand what you think about when you hear the word “Church”.
1. The Body Mindset
The Church is a dynamic gathering of Saints
You might have heard the phrase “the Church is not the building, it is the people.” Someone could also say “Church is not the Sunday morning sermon, it is the people.” Men, women, and children who are redeemed by Christ, united by the Holy Spirit, and who have covenanted together in a local assembly. When you drive to Church on Sunday, you are driving to gather with that “body” of people.
Having this “body mindset” keeps you from what I will call “movie theater mindset.” When you go to see a movie, you come in and sit together with a bunch of total strangers. This random group made up of different families and individuals watches the movie together but then leaves to return to separate homes without ever interacting or acknowledging each others’ existence. “Movie theater mindset” is coming to Church to listen to the Pastor preach alongside a bunch of strangers who you do not know and who you do not interact with after service is over.
In contrast, the Church as laid out in Acts is a completely different type of gathering:
44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Acts 2:44-47 ESV, emphasis added
You don’t “go to Church”; if you are a Christian you are a part of the Church, this dynamic body of believers. This means you gather together with fellow Saints past 10-12 am on Sunday morning. It means you see yourself as a part of their lives and realize each Church member is an important part of your life. You have to fight “movie theater mindset” and seek to know those in the pews next to you.
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An Alternative to Doctrinal Tiers

Doctrinal uncertainty captures not just the difference in relative importance of doctrine, but also the difference between how clearly Scripture presents a doctrine. Doctrinal uncertainty is inherently more focused on the text of Scripture itself. In this way, doctrinal uncertainty is an attractive alternative to doctrinal tiers when dealing with the question of why Christians disagree on some interpretations of Scripture and which interpretations are within orthodoxy.

You have probably heard the phrase “doctrinal tiers” at some point if you have been involved at Church for any length of time. Each Church I have attended in both my childhood and adult life have either mentioned doctrinal tiers or explicitly included them on their Church website. Suffice to say, at some point in your life I have no doubt you will encounter doctrinal tiers if you attend a Bible-preaching Church.
But what are “doctrinal tiers?” Is it a helpful concept? Are there any problems with using it? And is there a better way to solve the same problems doctrinal tiers tries to solve? In this post, I want to answer each of these questions and, in particular, propose an alternative to doctrinal tiers which I call “doctrinal uncertainty.”
What are doctrinal tiers?
Doctrinal tiers are a means to categorize different Bible doctrines in order of importance, orthodoxy or necessity of belief. The number of tiers, what each tier contains, and how the tiers are used varies from person to person and from Church to Church. I have seen them formulated as a pyramid and as a target. Essentially, doctrinal tiers is a way to answer the question “what doctrines and biblical interpretations can Christians disagree on and yet still be considered orthodox in their theology?“
Knowing what Biblical doctrines are essential to be considered saved and orthodox and what doctrines are “secondary” is a vital and practical distinction to make. And that is really all the tiers are: a method of categorization. It is a way of saying “this set of biblical beliefs you must hold to in order to be considered Christian, but these other issues, while important, have varying valid, orthodox interpretations.”
Generally “first tier” issues are the foundational doctrines of the gospel:

Who Christ is
What the nature of Sin is
What is the gospel
How is one saved

And so on. In contrast, secondary or tertiary doctrines include:

Infant baptism vs. believers’ baptism
The various eschatological interpretations
Views on Church structure

And others. From these lists, it is clear the first set deals with doctrines essential for saving faith while the second list deals with different practical matters of Church life and the interpretation of difficult passages.
Now, the concept of doctrinal tiers is important and helpful to a degree. By knowing where the lines of orthodoxy are drawn, Christians can contend for “essential” issues and agree to disagree on other issues. However, there are several problems with the doctrinal tiers model.
Issues with doctrinal tiers
1. Who decides how many tiers should their be and why?
This is a common problem I see when I read about doctrinal tiers: there is no “standard” for how many tiers one creates. Many Churches I know of have either two or three tiers. If you have two tiers, you divide up doctrines between necessary for orthodoxy and doctrines which Christians can disagree on. The three tier model adds another category, typically on doctrines which affect Church practice.
But hypothetically, one need not stop at two or three tiers. Why not four? Five? Ten? At some point the categories end up losing their usefulness, but I think this highlights an issue with the doctrinal tiers model: there is no limit to which you can categorize doctrines by degree of importance. As soon as you open the door for “ranking” doctrines so to speak, there is no reason you have to stop at two or three levels. This can create a situation where some doctrines are seen as “unimportant” simply because they are in a lower tier. Eschatology is a great example: I have met many people who refuse to study the topic because it is “less important.”
2. Who or what decides what doctrine goes in what tier?
This becomes more of a problem the more tiers you add to your model. Who decides which doctrines are essential and which can be safely disagreed upon? For the most part, Christians agree doctrines related to Christ and the gospel are tier 1. But what about different view on God’s providence in salvation? For some people, this is closer to a tier 1 issue than to other people.
Additionally, many of the tier 2 or 3 doctrines in Scripture have a direct relation to tier 1 doctrines. For example, your understanding of the doctrine of baptism (tier 2+) is not independent from what you believe about the gospel (tier 1). And as mentioned above, your view of God’s sovereignty in salvation (most of the time tier 2+) is integral to what you believe about the work of Christ on the cross (tier 1).
The issue with doctrinal tiers is someone has to sort all this out in a way that is not arbitrary. But if you examine what different Churches put into different tiers, you will find enough variation to call into question the process of how the doctrinal tiers are developed. Not every Church agrees with what doctrines goes into what tiers. How then does one discern what the “right” tier is to put a doctrine into? Without some objective or explicitly Scriptural process to decide what doctrines go into what tier, the decision potentially becomes arbitrary.
3. Is there a strong textual basis for doctrinal tiers?
A final critique of the doctrinal tiers model is the Bible generally presents itself as a unity of truth. What I mean by this is Scripture does not label its own doctrines or order them from “most important” to “least important”. Rather, the Bible is presented as God’s revelation to man as a whole. Moreover, doctrines are developed from synthesizing a wide variety of Biblical literature: poetry, prophecy, narrative, epistles, etc. Very rarely does Scripture explicitly say a certain doctrine takes priority over a different doctrine, such as ecclesiology (doctrine of the Church) being in a “higher tier” than eschatology (doctrine of end times).
There are two potential exceptions to this general rule. The first is the Bible puts an enormous emphasis on God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ.
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How to Get More Out of Your Pastor’s Sermons

Your heart as you drive to Church on Sunday should be brimming with anticipation not because you expect some entertainment or life-changing emotional moment. Rather, you should be excited that God is going to teach you through your Pastor so that your life can change to better reflect Christ in the coming week.

I always enjoy reading and recommending books on how to become a better Church member. There are many books on becoming a better preacher, counselor, or pastor but not as many focused on the average Church attender. Many believers don’t fully understand what their role is as a normal Church member. One outworking of this uncertainty is how people respond to their Pastor’s sermon. A question commonly asked is how to get more out of your pastor’s sermons?
One of my favorite books to recommend for instructing normal Church members is “Duties of Christian Fellowship” by John Owen. It is short, accessible, and intensely practical. If you have not read this book, I recommend you do so and then purchase a few dozen to give out at your Church. It truly is gold and I cannot possibly recommend it enough. Drop whatever you are currently reading and get through this book first; it is that important.
The first section of the book deals with the question of how to get more out of your pastor’s sermons. The quote below is worthy of consideration, particularly the last sentence.
The failure to consider these principles is the cause of all the negligence, carelessness, laziness, and indiscipline while hearing the world, which has taken hold of so many these days. Only a respect for the truth and authority of God in the preaching of his word will bring men to hear it soberly and profitably. It is also the case that men grow tired of hearing the word only after they have grown tired of putting it into practice.
“Duties of Christian Fellowship” by John Owen, emphasis added
What the Quote Means
“Duties of Christian Fellowship” is organized around “rules” for Church members. The first 7 deal with how Church members should interact with the Pastor and the second set of 15 focuses on how Church members should interact with each other. The quote given above comes after the very first rule Owen gives: Christians should regularly attend a local Church to listen to preaching and to partake in the ordinances.
But as in every era of Church history, not every person puts a high emphasis on the public preaching of God’s word. Owen’s answer is given in the quote: most of the time believers tire of hearing the word preached because they have long since stopped trying to apply the sermons they here. In other words:
What Owen does here is shift the focus of the question “how can you get more from your pastor’s sermons” from the pastor to the Church member in the pew. If you aren’t “getting anything” from the faithful preaching of God’s word, the first problem to examine is in the mirror, not the Pastor. What Owen writes is right in line with the first chapter of James:
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
James 1:22-25 ESV, emphasis added
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How to Read Scientific Papers Intelligently

Christians…should model humble engagement with scientific findings. Christians should not pretend that science is a perfect, objective, infallible source of truth. But they also shouldn’t have cynical attitude every time a scientific discovery is made.

As an engineer, I read scientific papers quite frequently. I am convinced most people do not know how to read scientific papers intelligently. This doesn’t need to be the case: you don’t have to be an expert to think critically about a study and its results. In a society which is obsessed with scientific discovery and “scientific truth,” Christians in particular need to be wise when engaging with modern science.
If you want to better engage with scientific findings, you are going to know certain questions to ask as you read scientific papers. Additionally, you are going to have to get a good grasp of the uncertainty inherent to any good science. Recently, I read a book that gives both a series of questions to ask of a scientific paper as well as a good analysis of the uncertainty inherent to science in general.
The book is called “Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth” by Stuart Richie. Although written by a non-Christian, it is an essential read for any Christian working in a STEM field and is useful for any believer who finds themselves looking up the latest “scientific study.” For today’s Book Quote of the Week, I want to look at questions Stuart Richie says you should ask when reading a scientific paper.
Is everything above board? Authors from reputable universities, companies, labs? Journal published in look professional?
How transparent is it? Can you find data set online anywhere?
Was the study well designed? How was the control group treated? When seeing headline claim, should ask “compared to what”
How big is the sample? How many subjects were included from the final sample and why?
Are the inferences appropriate? Causal language when only a correlation study? Experiments on animals jumped to humans?
Is there bias? Does the study have obvious political or social ramifications and do the scientists write about these in such a way that seems less than impartial? Where was the study funded?
How plausible is it really? If study involves human participants imagine yourself having taken a part…did the environment of the study even approximate the setting that the scientists want to know about?
Has it been replicated? Stop relying so heavily on individual studies
Questions from “Science Fictions:How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth” by Stuart Richie
What the Quote Means
These questions come at the very end of “Science Fictions.” The entire book looks at the ways researchers intentionally or unintentionally publish results which are misleading in one way or the other. The results can be over-hyped, they can ignore important data, or the conclusions can be impossible to replicate in a future study. All of these questions laid out by Richie are designed to help you as you read scientific papers to ask the simple question “is this true?”
Some of these questions are harder to answer if you don’t have a STEM background. But the basic questions of “how was the study designed? Who were the people who did the study? What were the conclusions of the study and do they make sense?” are always useful to have in the back of your mind when reading a “scientific conclusion.”
Now, the goal of these questions isn’t to cause you to never trust another scientific conclusion again. Rather, they are tools for you to more intelligently discern whether an article like “10 Superfoods which reduce aging instantly” is something you should read and take to heart, or not. These questions help you sort the “wheat from the chaff” so to speak.
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6 Spiritually Profitable Things You Can Do While Holding A Baby

By meditating on His word, I can, with the Holy Spirit’s help, turn a simple everyday task of holding a baby into a sanctifying time of spiritual strengthening. You might not have time to do a full inductive Bible study every hour of your day. But I am certain if you committed yourself to meditating on Scripture, you could find time throughout your schedule to think over a precious truth or promise or command from God.

Lately, I have spent a large portion of my days and nights holding a baby. The question I have asked myself during these extended periods of holding him is “how can I redeem this time for spiritual good? Is there anything spiritually profitable I can do while holding my baby?”
The past couple weeks, I have found 6 different answers to these questions. While certainly non-exhaustive, these 6 things have helped me focus my mind on the Lord as I have been walking, standing, or sitting with a baby in my arms. What is the goal of all this? Redeeming the time in accordance to what God says:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
Ephesians 5:15-16, ESV emphasis added
Even if you don’t find yourself holding a baby, no doubt you have free moments throughout the day. These free moments may be short, but they are opportunities to invest in your soul and in your relationship with the Lord. Here are some ways to spend those moments.
1. Pray
Before having a baby, I often asked the Lord to give me more time to pray throughout the day. He certainly answered that request by giving me a son. The first couple sleepless nights in the hospital I sat holding my son in the dark and the silence-alone except for me, my son, and the Lord. I will never forget the sweet times of prayer in the hospital holding a baby I cared so much about and who I wanted to know Christ one day.
This taught me an important lesson:

You don’t have to wait around for an opportunity to pray. You can do it now.

Communion with the Lord is made possible through Christ and that communion is possible at any moment. The key is to take the times of silence God gives you to turn our attention back to Him. Holding a baby is one of those opportunities, but so is a host of other life circumstances. Next time you find yourself having a free moment, keep your phone off. Don’t turn on music or flip on the television. Dedicate those fleeting calm moments to pray to the God who made you, knows you, and loves you.
2. Read
If I am holding my son and he is asleep, I most likely have one hand free. That means I can hold a Christian book or, better yet, the Bible. I normally can get through a chapter or two of Scripture or a couple sections of a book before my son wakes up. I personally don’t care for audio books or e-readers, but I imagine both of these are even more accessible while holding a baby.
A consistent diet of Biblical truth is what you and I need to grow. Like the Psalmist in Psalm 119, you should be longing for God’s word. This longing will manifest itself in picking up the Bible or a book on the Bible any chance you get.
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7 Discipleship Principles from Jesus

A major part of discipling others is displaying for them the worth and value of Jesus. Since the Gospel is at the heart of the Christian faith, you always return to it. You show how it is Jesus and Jesus alone who gives rest for people’s souls. And this rest was only made possible by His sacrifice.

Once Jesus was resurrected, He commanded His disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations.” But what does that discipleship look like? How does one go about obeying this command practically? How would the original apostles have gone about doing this? I think the answer is clear: Jesus had spent the past several years discipling the apostles, setting an example for how discipleship is to be done. In short, the apostles would have learned their discipleship principles from Jesus. And so should you.
In this post, I want to extract practical discipleship principles from Jesus by looking at how He behaved towards His disciples. This post will look at the Gospel of Matthew in particular. There are many different ideas and methods put forward today for how to disciple someone. But the most important and foundational principles are laid down by Jesus in the Gospels. You must internalize and meditate on how Jesus interacted with His disciples in order to be effective at discipling others in obedience to the Great Commission.
1. You must initiate the discipling relationship
While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he (Jesus) saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.
Matthew 4:18-20 ESV, emphasis added
It goes without saying, but the 12 apostles didn’t choose themselves to become Jesus disciples. Jesus initiated the relationship. Jesus called the 12 from their different areas of life and commanded them to follow Him. Furthermore, in Matthew 4 Jesus states His goal with discipling Peter and Andrew: He will make these brothers fishers of men.
“Fishers of men” is an apt metaphor for discipleship. No one goes fishing by sitting at home and waiting for the fish to swim up on land and come to them. Fishing means going out and catching the fish yourself. If you want to disciple other people, you are going to have to initiate the relationship. If you sit around waiting to be swarmed by individuals dying to glean wisdom from you, you will be waiting a long time.
Now, unlike Jesus who has all authority, not everyone you approach with immediately follow you as Peter and Andrew did Jesus. But this discipleship principle from Jesus still holds: if you want to have a discipling relationship with someone, you are going to have to take the first steps.
2. Discipleship involves both direct teaching and setting an example with your lifestyle
The 12 apostles were around Jesus for the length of His earthly ministry. During that time, Jesus both taught the disciples directly, and set an example by His conduct. The Gospel of Matthew contains several sections recording the teaching of Jesus, including the famous section “The Sermon on the Mount.” Beyond this formal teaching, the 12 apostles received teaching not given broadly, such as Jesus interpreting parables for them.
But it would be foolish to limit Jesus’ discipleship of the apostles to His teaching ministry. The apostles also:

Witnessed Jesus’ miracles
Watched Him respond to the Pharisees
Listened as He answered questions from the crowd with wisdom

And more. Because the apostles were around Jesus constantly, they had the unique position to both hear what Jesus said and observe how Jesus acted. And this “hearing and seeing” is crucial to any discipling relationship. Certainly a good amount of time discipling others will involve teaching. But just as important is how you yourself behave and conduct yourself.
Just like Jesus, you need to model in practice what you teach in precept. You oftentimes have more opportunities to display godly character in action than you do communicating godly characteristics in word.
3. Discipleship is honest about the joy of following Christ and the cost of following Christ
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30 ESV, emphasis added
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Matthew 16:24-25 ESV, emphasis added
Jesus did not sugarcoat the cost of following Him. Neither did He undersell the peace and joy He provides. Discipling involves teaching this tension. Following Jesus will lead to suffering and difficulty in this world, but Jesus is worth it. If you lose either part of this tension, you will end up obscuring the Bible’s teaching.
A major part of discipling others is displaying for them the worth and value of Jesus. Since the Gospel is at the heart of the Christian faith, you always return to it. You show how it is Jesus and Jesus alone who gives rest for people’s souls. And this rest was only made possible by His sacrifice.
But at the same time, you don’t ever want to make Jesus sound like a “ticket to heaven” or a means to material gain or someone who demands nothing of His followers. Just as Jesus called His disciples to self denial and dying to themselves, so to you will make it clear to all you are discipling that following Jesus requires leaving behind much of what people hold onto in their flesh.
4. You cannot disciple everyone at the same level
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
Matthew 5:1, 10:1, 17:1 ESV, emphasis added
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Staples of a Balanced Bible Diet

Oftentimes, one quiet time is not enough in a day. You will need several times throughout the day and oftentimes each session in God’s word will have to look different than the last one. Rarely can you do an in-depth study of Scripture 20 times a day. Instead, you can vary the modes of Scripture intake so that you can stay engaged with God’s word whether you are at work, at home, at the store or wherever you find yourself.

How can a believer consistently internalize the word of God on a day to day basis? How does one cultivate a balanced bible diet? Most mature Christians I meet have two fundamental realities they face each day:

They want to spend time with the Lord in His Word to grow in godliness
Each day’s schedule is incredibly busy and packed with activities and tasks that have to get done

What is the best way to daily put yourself before the word of God in the midst of all the normal, everyday things that need to get done?
I have asked myself this in every stage of life so far and with my family newly expanding, I find myself thinking through this issue again.
I have already written about the book “The Practice of Godliness” by Jerry Bridges. As I have been working through the book, it continues to prove itself an excellent read. I want to analyze a quote I recently read which helps answer some of the questions posed above. Bridges gives 5 staples of a balanced bible diet to work into your day.

A prominent part of our practice of godliness, therefore, will be our time in the Word of God. How we spend that time varies according to the method of intake…hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating.
The Practice of Godliness by Jerry Bridges

What the Quote Means
This quote appears in a chapter which discusses training yourself for godliness. Bridges rightly argues that one of the primary means by which a believer becomes more godly is through diligent and disciplined exposure to the word of God. Bridges then cites the Navigators five different methods of Scripture intake: hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating.
These five different categories of Scripture intake are incredibly helpful to keep in your mind. Hearing has to do with listening to the exposition of the Word of God from your Pastor or a teacher. Bridges describes “reading” as a structured Bible reading plan you go through in a year. The basic idea is getting a broad look at Scripture. Studying has to do with going deep into a text using analytical tools and then organizing your information afterwards.
The last two, memorizing and meditating, are closely related. Memorizing is internalizing Scripture to the point you can recall it easily to your mind. Meditating means “murmuring to yourself” the words of Scripture so you are constantly mulling a text over in your mind. Personally, I think meditating is the highest form of Scripture intake and all the other four support the goal of meditating on the Word of God “day and night.”
Why it is Important
There is an old adage that goes “variety is the spice of life.” Similarly, I would say “variety keeps you engaged with Scripture.”
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