We come to article six in our confessional statement, the Baptist Faith and Message: The doctrine of the Church. Article six reads:
The doctrine of the church has fallen on hard times these days. As with many other foundational teachings many in our day seem to be willing to sacrifice doctrinal soundness on the altar of earthly success and the consequences have been disastrous. To many, church membership means little or nothing. We live in a day of church hoppers and church shoppers; a day when commitment to a local body of believers is looked upon as being somewhat antiquated or unnecessary.
That is why if there was ever a day when Christians need to know what they believe about the church and why they believe it, it is today. Unless we know what we believe we will not know who we are and how we should live or why we must live that way. In a day and age when the very existence of truth itself is being denied it is imperative that we, as the redeemed of the Lord Jesus Christ; as those who have been entrusted with God's revelation and His kingdom's expansion, be certain about our doctrinal moorings, in particular the doctrine of the church.
The New Testament describes the church as the "ekklesia," which is a Greek word meaning "called out ones." Thus, the doctrine of the church is called ecclesiology. Our English term "church," comes to us from the Greek word, "kuriakon," which described Christian places of worship during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Our term "congregation," comes to us from William Tyndale who translated ekklesia into the Latin "congregatio," from which we get our word congregation. This speaks of a democratically gathered group of people rather than a building. (See Malcolm Yarnell's article on the church in Blount and Wooddell's book on the BF&M 2000)
When we speak of the church we often do so in two different senses. The first and most common sense of the word is the local church, which is a local body of believers. The second sense of the word refers to all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every tribe, and tongue, and people and nation. This is often referred to as the Church Universal. Today we will talk more about the local church.
We will begin by examining the foundation of the Church.
I. The Master of the church - Jesus Christ
We have studied the doctrine of Christ, His person and His Work. The Church is, in a sense an extension of Christ in that it is His body on earth of which He is the leader, or the Master.
In every sense of the word, Jesus Christ is the foundation of the Church. He ordained the church and founded it on the confession of Peter in Matthew 16:13-19 where Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. To which Jesus responded, "On this rock I will build my church and the forces of Hades will not overpower it."
Jesus founded the church on the confession that He is the Christ.
First Corinthians 3:11 says, No one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid, that is Jesus Christ." Colossians 1:18 says, "He is also the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning, the first born from the dead, so that He might come to have first place in everything." And Ephesians 2:19-20 tells us as members of God's church we are, "fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone."
Jesus is the founder, the head, the Master and the Lord of the Church. It is comprised of those whom He has redeemed, or purchased with His blood. The Church exists for Him, by Him and in Him. Without Jesus there is no church. He is the head of the church.
This is important to remember because everything the church is and does should emanate from this truth. Many groups calling themselves churches today have over the years drifted away from their origins and are no longer recognizable as being founded upon the person and work of Jesus Christ. Let us never forget that we exist to exalt Jesus. Everything we are is about Him.
II. The marks of a church
In recent years, even among some calling themselves Baptists, there has been a great deal of confusion as to what makes a church. Ecclesiology has been debated and discussed at nearly every level of our denomination because not every group which calls themselves a church is a church.
Not too long ago there was a group within our denomination which championed a strategy of starting what they called "House churches." In an attempt to overcome the difficulties associated with starting what they called "Traditional" churches, they proposed that our efforts and resources should be directed towards starting churches of ten to twenty people who met in people's homes. While there are places in the world where, because of religious, persecution these are the only types of churches permissible, in our country they simply did not take off. To quote one friend of mine, "A bible study by any other name is still a bible study."
So from a biblical perspective, what makes a church a church? What are the distinct characteristics which we find in scripture that differentiates a group of religious people from a church?
Notice three things that make up a church.
A. Its members - baptized believers (covenant)
The principle thing that designates a church is its members. The first sentence of our confessional statement says that, "A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel." This is an important statement because it asserts that the only people who can be members of the local church are those who have been born again and have given witness to that conversion by following the Lord's command and being baptized.
To be a believer means to have surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It means that you have recognized that you are a sinner and that there is no way you can save yourself from the penalty of your sins. Only by casting yourself on the mercy of Jesus and accepting His gracious gift of forgiveness and eternal life can you be saved. That conversion is publically witnessed in the waters of baptism. This is what the Lord commands.
There are far reaching ramifications to what it means to be a believer. It does not simply mean that you have given mental assent to the moral and ethical truths of scripture or that you are in philosophical agreement with the biblical teachings concerning Christ. To be a believer means that you have trusted in Christ to the degree that you have surrendered your life to Him. It means that He is living His life through you and that you are a reflection of His character to the world around you. In short, it means that you have been radically changed and are in the process of being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.
The problem in so many religious circles today and certainly in many churches is that we have unregenerate, or unsaved church members. How could you say such a thing? You might ask. I can say it because I have seen it. There is no way that a person who was truly born of the Spirit, filled with the Spirit and was walking in the Spirit of God could say some of the things, do some of the things and be as mean as some of the people who call themselves Christians. Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:16, "You'll recognize them by their fruit." In verses 17 and 18 He says, "In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can't produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit."
You see one of the important elements of our confessional statement is that it says we are associated by covenant. That means that we are in agreement with one another to be the people God has called us to be. That's what a covenant is; it's a binding agreement between two or more people.
Many of you may not know but our church has a covenant. It's a very simple statement of agreement. It was written by Henry Webb and adopted by our church several years ago. Each point is directly tied to scripture and if you would like a copy there will be copies available to you on the tables outside the worship service after the service today. Listen to what it says:
A New Church Covenant for Your Church Family by Henry Webb
"God established a covenant relationship, first with His people — Israel, and then a new covenant with His people — the church. Therefore, as members of God's covenant family known as Applewood Baptist Church, we commit ourselves to God and to one another to be Christ-like in our lives and relationships through the presence, guidance, and power of God's Holy Spirit.
We will love one another as Christ loved us, honor one another above ourselves, be kind and compassionate to one another, encourage and build up one another, comfort one another, and offer hospitality to one another.
We will have a spirit of unity based on our common bond in Christ, be united in mind and convictions, meet together regularly, have equal concern for each other, suffer when one suffers and rejoice when another is honored, and consider others more important than ourselves.
We will use our God-given knowledge to instruct one another, use our spiritual gifts to bless one another, use the Word of Christ to teach and admonish one another, and nurture one another toward spiritual maturity measured by the life and ministry of Jesus.
We will confess our sins to one another, pray for each other, warn those who are idle, encourage the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with one another, forgive one another as the Lord forgave us, and gently restore those who sin.
We will not talk negatively about one another, not pass judgment on one another, not put any stumbling block in one another's way, not be morally impure, not use obscenities, not be greedy, but we will be filled with the Spirit."
We will let the light of godly lives shine together to bring glory to God.
Isn't that great? It sums up so clearly and succinctly what it means to be a part of a body of believers.
I like what Mark Dever, pastor of Capital Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C. says about church membership:
As a church we have many people on our membership roles who do not qualify, according to our covenant or according to scripture, for membership. Some of them have not attended in years, many of them do little more than attend, when they even do that, and yet they are invested with the ability to vote on the governance of our church. I have spoken with our staff and with our deacons and in the coming months we are going to begin cleaning up our church roles. If we believe what the bible teaches about being members of the body of Christ, then we need to be more careful about granting the privilege of membership into this fellowship of believers.
Membership has its privileges, but it also has its responsibilities. If you are a church member God has called you to be a part of this local body so that He can both bless you and use you to be a blessing to others.
B. Its ministry
While the ministries of a church are numerous and varied, there are four things Scripture teaches us are essentials.
1. Preaching the word of God
Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2 to preach the word. A true church is a church which preaches the word of God. There's a lot behind that statement.
- Preaching the word of God means preaching the whole council of God's word,
- When it is in season or out of season,
- When it is convenient or inconvenient;
- When it makes you popular or makes you unpopular.
- It is preaching which brings conviction for sin;
- Preaching which is centered on the person and work of God;
- Preaching which exalts Jesus as the only Lord and Savior;
- Preaching which stirs the hearts of the hearers and causes them desire more of God;
- It is preaching which is elevates the soul and causes Christians to strive toward holiness;
- Preaching which calls the lost to get saved and calls the saved to reach the lost;
- It is preaching which keeps the saints in the paths or righteousness;
- Preaching which comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable;
- Preaching which never compromises the truth just because it's inconvenient;
- It is preaching which starts and ends with biblical revelation;
- Preaching which knows nothing of political correctness and is anchored in the Rock of Ages;
- It is preaching which seeks to expose the truth of God's word to God's people.
This is biblical preaching and it is one of the essential marks of a church. Where this type of preaching is absent, there is no church.
Many of the so called house churches have little more than a group discussion about what they think this or that scripture means. Folks, for it to be a church, biblical preaching is a must.
2. Observing the Ordinances
Matthew 28 and 1 Corinthians 11 outline the two ordinances of the church which are Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Next week we will be examining these in greater detail but suffice it to say that a true church is one where these two ordinances are observed and done so regularly.
3. Disciplining its members
We don't hear a great deal about church discipline these days but Matthew 18 is clear that as a body of believers we are to practice loving and redemptive discipline within our body. All too often church discipline has been mishandled or abused but there is no getting around it, if a member is in sin, according to Galatians 6, we who are spiritual have a responsibility to restore them by confronting them and lovingly pointing out to them the error of their ways in hope that they will repent. This is one of the missing elements in church life today.
4. Exercising its gifts
A church is a body of believers wherein the members use their gifts. First Corinthians 12 and Romans 12:4-8 outline this truth. Upon conversion every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God and is given at least one spiritual gift which he or she is to use within the body of Christ for the building up or edification of the body, as Ephesians 4 tells us.
We believe in what we call member ministry. That is, every member should be involved in some type of ministry. Ministry is not just for the professionals, as some churches would seem to teach. The scripture teaches that the pastors are here to equip the saints for the work of the ministry and that the saints, that would be you all, are here to actually perform that ministry.
One of the richest and yet untapped resources of the Christian church is sitting in its pews. Can you imagine the impact we could make on our world if every church member took it upon themselves to do the work of the ministry? How many members do we have here at our church? Can you imagine what this city would look like if each year each member would only win one person to Christ?
A church is a body of believers where members are united in order to minister to one another through the exercise of their individual gifts.
But not only is a church a church because of its members and its ministry, it is a church because of its make-up.
C. Its make-up
This is its structure, which speaks to its organizational structure and the offices within that structure. There are two things to consider here, one is church government or polity, and the other is the offices of the church. First we'll address the church's system of government, or polity.
1. Polity - Governance
There are different kinds of church government, or polity. As Baptists we hold to what is known as congregational rule. That is, we believe the Bible teaches that God has invested the body of believers as a whole with the authority to make decisions concerning its ongoing ministry.
Dr. Malcolm Yarnell, associate professor of systematic theology at the Southwestern Baptist, writes that "Baptist congregationalism is deeply rooted in the New Testament witness. In Matthew 18:15-20 final temporal authority for excommunication resides with the congregation. Jesus was clear that findings by the "brother" followed by the "one or two more" were preliminary steps before the ultimate decision by the entire church. In Acts 6:3 the Jerusalem congregation itself was charged with choosing seven men who were obviously Spirit-filled and widely respected to be put in charge of mundane church matters. In Acts 13"2-3, the Holy Spirit led the Antioch congregation to set apart Barnabas and Saul for missionary work by laying hands upon them. In Acts 15:22 the apostles and elders, along with the whole church of Jerusalem chose messengers to deliver their message to the associated Antioch church. In 1 Corinthians 5:2-5 Paul informs the church it was responsible for disciplining an immoral may by assembling together to excommunicate him....Numerous other texts reinforce congregationalism as the only biblical polity."
This is a Baptist distinctive which, while not in vogue in some circles, none-the-less, finds more biblical support than any other form of church polity. As Southern Baptists we have historically held to congregational church rule.
The other thing to consider in the church's make-up or structure is its offices.
The scripture gives us two offices which each church is to fill. One is the office of pastor and the other is the office of deacon.
There are three words in the Greek New Testament which speak to the office of pastor. One is the word "episcopos," often translated overseer or bishop, the second is the word "presbyteros" often translated as elder and the third word is the word "poimainein," which is translated shepherd or pastor. Each of these three titles speak to one of the areas of the pastor's responsibility.
As an overseer, or "episcopos," the pastor is charged with leadership. That means he is to oversee the overall ministry of the church, giving direction as he seeks direction from God and from God's word.
As a "presbyteros," or elder, the pastor is charged with teaching. One scholar (Dever) notes that, "The essence of the elders office lies with ensuring the word of God is well understood, evidence by the commitment to teaching one's particular flock this word."
The "poimainein," or Shepherd, is responsible for caring for the church as an under-shepherd, or a steward who is responsible to the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
The church has a responsibility to support, honor, and follow the leaders God gives them.
Hebrews 13:17 says, "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you."
In our understanding of the office of pastor there is usually a senior pastor, one who is responsible for the overall ministries of the church and, depending upon the size of the congregation, he can be assisted by associates to whom he delegates various duties and responsibilities. Again, Dr. Yarnell helps us here when he says, "The biblical and contextual arguments in favor of a single eldership include....single presidency in the period's synagogue, the assignment of one messenger to each of the seven Asian churches in Revelation 1-3, and the common biblical paradigm of multiple leaders overseen by a single leader."(Blount and Wooddell, pg 63.)
Additionally, the office of pastor is reserved for men. While this is not in keeping with popular trends, it is nonetheless biblical and is in consonance with the argument Paul makes in 1 Timothy chapter 2. As Southern Baptists we hold to what is known as complementarianism as opposed to egalitarianism. Egalitarianism tries to say that women should be ordained as pastors as well because everyone is equal. While this type of thinking may find favor with the current feministic feelings of our day, it does not stand up to biblical scrutiny. Complementarianism, on the other hand, asserts that while men and women are created equal before God, in His sovereign wisdom He has chosen specific roles for each gender which are complementary to one another.
The second office of the church is that of deacon.
The word deacon comes from a Greek word which was used to describe a household servant. Within the New Testament Church the office of deacon is an office of service, not of oversight and is one which, like the office of pastor, demands high standards for those who would qualify.
The bible sets forth several things deacons are to do:
1. Deacons are to take care of physical ministry. We find this in Acts chapter 6 where the apostles commissioned the first deacons to wait tables.
2. Deacons are to strive for the unity of the body. This is clearly a biblical injunction found in Acts chapter 6 as well where there was division because of the distribution of food and the ministry of the deacons was, in part, to restore the unity of the body. A pastor who has a fellowship of deacons who are committed to this biblical directive is truly a blessed man.
3. Third, the deacons are to support the ministry of the pastors. In the New Testament they supported the ministry of the apostles, doing the mundane ministries which allowed the apostles to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word, things with which today's pastors are charged.
If a gathering of believers is going to be a church, these are characteristics, or marks which, from a biblical point of view, must be evident.
Finally, we must consider the mission of the church.
III. The mission of the church
One scholar puts it this way, "The church remains on earth to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth, by bearing witness to Christ in all places at all times. Our Lord's Great Commission includes four necessarily progressive, continuing and interrelated actions; Going to the lost throughout the world; making disciples by evangelism; Baptizing new disciples into a local church; and teaching all that Jesus Christ commanded." (Malcolm Yarnell in Blount and Wooddell.)
Many so called churches have become anything but a New Testament church and no longer fulfill their biblically assigned role. Some have turned into political action committees, or are nothing more than religious institutions whose sole purpose is to keep people from feeling guilty about their sin. Others have become places of entertainment. Folks, I am all for music in the church, it is a gift of God. But the preaching of gospel of Jesus Christ is what should be central in our churches. We are not here to be political, although we should enjoy what we experience here. We are not here to be political, although some of what God tells us will force us to engage the world in political realms. We are not here to merely be comforted, although some of our ministry here will be comforting. We are not merely here for us and ours, although we and our families will be blessed here. We exist for those who have not yet come. As a church our mission is to spread the gospel and expand the kingdom of God, in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the world.