Archive for August, 2014

It Matters: The Church as the Greatest Caring Institution in the History of the World

In the South there  are certain rituals we participate  in almost without thinking: weddings, funerals, and Friday night football to name a few. Because of these beautiful and strong traditions one can expect a certain response as a son of the South at the passing of a loved one. Our family (the Woodward family–I am speaking here as a son of Dr. Charles Alan Woodward) was reminded in a profound  way this past weekend  that some rituals, or at least on some occasions, our  rituals can move beyond tradition to the incarnational reality of the church being the hands and  feet of Jesus. When Dad transitioned to eternal glory last week there was no question in our mind that  we would  celebrate his life at the  church where the majority of his ministry occurred: FBC Ellisville. As we pulled up to  the church Friday night for the visitation, we were ushered into a fellowship area where dear friends had prepared food for us and greeted us with great concern. Then for over three hours person after person expressed concern for mom, the three boys, and the grandchildren, with particular concern our having lost dad at a relatively young age by today’s standards (66).  Then we were taken to a friend of the family and member of the church’s home, where more food and care awaited us. On Saturday morning we could  barely get out of the vehicle when loving folks came to embrace particularly mom as we moved toward the sanctuary. I am purposefully only mentioning two names to give honor to the sacredness of service others provided. The gracious pastor,  Dr. Brashier, gladly opened the church to us during this difficult  time, and Bro. Robert Fennell, a mentor to all three Woodward boys and long-time friend of the family, carefully provided every need for the worship celebration. After the graveside service, we were invited back to the church to the comfort of food and fellowship. I watched  other ladies of the church, again long-time friends of our  family work tirelessly to serve our family.

One of my favorite comments that was made regarding Dad’s legacy, which came particularly from guys my age, was that Dad as pastor at First Ellisville, helped bring us to together  as a community built on something beyond ourselves. Truly, the church is a picture  of this reality. My friends were right in saying we needed this as preteens and throughout our developmental years. But now I am learning through experience that we need it just as much as big boys as we face tragedies. Please don’t misunderstand my meaning here: Theologically, the church is a concept that was birthed in the heart and mind of God that expands the seminal institution of family, namely the family of Israel, to all who have sincerely accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. It is the institution uniquely designed by God to care for our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. (Don’t read too much into physical although historically the church has rightly led the way in this category pretty much since the Resurrection.)

I offer this theological definition to say we can understand the concept of the church and even experience it over a lifetime and yet be blown away during  the care of the beautiful bride of Christ during our darkest hours. And as the conceptual idea of church becomes incarnational reality may we recognize the beauty of the church and give God the glory. May we say to ourselves and our family members as instruments in this body: It Matters. Our role in the church matters. From the ladies who help change diapers, to the 5th grade Sunday School teacher (Mr. Copeland in my case), to the consistent servants who make sure  the baptismal details are in order, to the servant-teams that provides meals at funerals, to the evangelism teams that go out in various ways, to the choir members, to the ushers, to sound tech guys, and deacon’s wives . . . it all matters.

And as perfect as the handling of our delicate situation was carried out by the fine folks at First Baptist Ellisville, I am starting to figure something out as old friends from Highland Baptist Church in Metairie, and new friends at First Baptist New Orleans and Crosspoint (brother’s Jon’s church), and friends from past churches like First Baptist Helen and First Baptist Havana, and the wonderful folks at First Baptist Brandon (brother Charlie and mom’s current home church), and pastors/staff from a myriad of churches express concern in person and through social media–I am starting to figure out that this church thing is not unique to one place or time or culture. When we do church the way Christ intended for it to be done, according to the NT, the church truly becomes the greatest caring institution in the history of the world, and much more than that as the Lord uses His church to fit us for heaven.

It is exactly the church that causes me to know that my mother will eventually settle into a healthy rhythm and routine on the outskirts of Brandon MS. There will be the precious folks from her Sunday school class, checking in on her and precious ladies from her  church who have walked the same path who come along beside her. No doubt this is part of what Paul yearned for when he said again and again in his letters that he wanted us to attain full maturity and knowledge in Christ. The knowledge does relate to theology but it is also a working knowledge of how the church family is to love each other. So the next time you are tempted to say to yourself, does this small thing I am doing in my local church really matter? Rest assured based on the principles of His Word and the time-tested realities of the hands and feet of Jesus that it matters. It really, really matters.

Thank you so much First Baptist Ellisville, thank you First Baptist Brandon, thank you First Baptist New Orleans, thank you Crosspoint Church in Gulfport and thank you to the many others who have connected  to Dad and mom or their boys along the way for your  tremendous love expressed in word and deed.


On behalf of the Woodward family,

Greg Woodward

The (i)ncarnation of Worship

The article attached is the philosophical underpinning for this blog: (I)ncarnation chpt 1 and (I)ncarnation chpt 2.

A Church that Teachers her Sons to Sing

During my Dad’s last months on earth and now in his last days and moments, our family has been incredibly encouraged by the songs of the church. In our family’s journey this is no accident or result of little effort. In God’s incredible and beautiful Sovereignty He provided a rich musical environment for my brothers and I. We had remarkably rich musical experiences in a small church in Metairie, LA named Highland Baptist Church, and our journey at FBC Ellisville was simply incredible. It is true that before 12 we were pushed to excellence with challenging handbell music, breathing exercises, and encouragement to embrace proclamation in song at every turn. But as life unfolds I increasingly recognize that the most important thing we learned in a church that expected every boy and man to sing was the comfort the hymns and songs of the faith bring in our darkest hour. I am particularly partial to the hymns of the faith in this regard, and those who know my ministry context know that I embrace relevance in worship ministries, but at our darkest hour it is incredibly important to be able to lock arms across generations and sing the great hymns of the faith. Great is Thy Faithfulness  has been particularly comforting for our family. This afternoon as the brothers Wood(ward) rushed to Pearl, MS to be at our mother’s side, It Is Well with My Soul seemed most appropriate. An incredible marvelous thought entered my mind this afternoon as mom and the three brothers were drawing comfort through prayer: How incredible in God’s Sovereignty that  He  would have  placed her sons in a church that  taught  her sons to sing. Do you see the beauty, the power of this concept? A church that  teaches her sons to sing will be comforted by those self-same sons in her darkest hours. Literally as saints pass from this world to our eternal home they will be comforted by the songs of the church sung by her sons. This is a heritage, which I was not only born to continue, but the Lord literally shaped my journey to allow me to see the vital role of the songs of the church. I would always want to be mindful not to raise the importance of a church song beyond which it should  be viewed under the supremacy of Christ in all and through all, and no doubt the best song sung is the life lived well for our Lord, as Clement would remind us, but truly no greater instrument hath the Lord given us than that of faith sung by the church’s sons.

The Age of Baptism

Tomorrow is a big day in the Woodward house. My middle son Luke is going to be baptized. He is 12, and his older brother  and sister were also baptized at 12 or 13. This is actually not a coincidence. In our  home, we of course look for signs of the Spirit working in the lives of our children and try to respond to their questions. All of our kids thus far–and we praise God for this reality–have sought a relationship with Christ at an early age. We  assume nothing other than sincerity with an early decision, which has occurred more than once with our six children, but we also assume a time will come later in life when the child who makes an early decision comes to a fuller  understanding of that decision or fuller sense of conviction of sin, and in some instances the child believes the later understanding or conviction coincides with the actual moment of salvation. I believe in some instances that the earliest decision is valid but each of us must wrestle with the reality of initial salvation from the Father.

Assuming the child has accepted Christ  by 12, which has  occurred for each of our oldest three  children, we proceed toward baptism at some point between the ages of 12 and 13. However, we have started another tradition to help seal this important  moment in the lives of our children. Usually the day before the baptism, we gather with immediate family and sometimes extended family or a family friend, and we question the child regarding basic doctrine. I believe the one who is being  baptized needs to be able to talk about the Trinity,doctrine of Christ, doctrine of sin, and doctrine of salvation, even if it is in 12-year-old language. We seek to assure the  child that having a right answer does not equal salvation. Rather, salvation occurred at the moment he or she genuinely accepted Christ  as Lord and Savior. We will ask again before the family council if the child asked Christ into his or her life at the earlier point–note that at this point if the child has  questions we can pray at that  very moment to receive Christ.

For those who might still be with me at this point in the article, let’s see if I can stir up all the Baptists in the room. Once the child is baptized, you are not allowed to be baptized again as long as you live in our home. If the child comes to me at 14 and says, I believe I have just now genuinely accepted Christ, I will say, “That’s wonderful; you’re mother and I rejoice with you in this decision.” But the child  will not be baptized again. I am amazed at the number of people I encounter in ministry that  have  been baptized  twice, including myself. I don’t think the original “re-baptizers” had what we do in mind when the Baptist denomination begin to emerge a few centuries ago. Sure if a person experiences infant baptism, an additional baptism is needed. But  in my view, if the average committed Christian has been baptized more than once under the category of sole-competency, something is wrong with our system. I am sure statistically that  at least one of my children will get baptized twice, but it will not be during his or her developmental years.

So some might be wondering why 12, I will answer in extended manner if anyone is interested, but for now, let me simply say that this age was determined through research on developmental understanding. At 12 a child can begin to have profound understanding of symbolism. I didn’t create this reality. This reality unfolds from God’s sovereignty of the developmental process. Notice this is also the threshold of young manhood or womanhood.

And yes you are right if guessed that there are historical models for this practice. As I have said elsewhere on this blog, our  main guides in leading our family or churches in worship are biblical and theological, but comparing our conclusions against the weight of history is not a bad idea.