Why Do We Need Creeds and Confessions?

The life and history of the church is a very interesting business, filled with a variety of personalities and opinions. This is especially true when it comes to the areas of theology and doctrine. This is why in a country that has always prided itself on individualism we have seen a massive growth of Denominationalism and “Non-denominationalism.” In each camp there is something that is rallied around as supreme, and rarely is it the reality of the gospel, but usually a secondary issue. However we may have come to these distinctive division they do exist and to some degree that is not bad as long as it is not hindering the advancement of the gospel and the truth of the work of Christ. For the most part this is where Creedal and confessional unity has found its niche and revitalization, it would seem, in the church landscape.

Now what is this Creedal and Confessional idea? This is the basic tenant that we as a church local (or believer individually) agree to and uphold a set of Christian teachings and interpretation of the scriptures that are binding on our life and practice. The earliest forms of our modern confessions were the Creeds of the church which originated as early as Paul with the writing of Philippians 2:6-11 and developed over time as the church grew and wrestled with the apostle’s teachings. Eventually there developed two majority creeds; the Apostles Creed and the Nicaean Creed, and after the reformation we say the growth of confessions; two predominant ones are: The Westminster Confession of Faith and the London Baptist Confession of Faith 1689. Today I want to take a moment and go over the benefits of Creeds and Confessions to the Modern Church.

They Bring Clarity

The Creeds and Confessions of the Faith helped to set the foundation for how we understand the scriptures. They in no way have replaced the scriptures, but rather in a succinct manner explained the basic tenants of the faith as reveled in the scriptures. Even to this day we still recite these statements in our churches. The Early creeds helped us to understand the scriptural teachings on the Trinity, gave clarity to the work and means of the Holy Spirit, and the importance of the communion of the saints. They helped us to know what we believed as Christians. In the midst of much confusion they helped new believers to see the basic teachings of the Scriptures.

They Connect Us to our History

The church where I currently pastor recites the Apostles creed following Communion to remind ourselves of the joyous banquet that awaits all the saints for all time that have trusted in the sacrificial death of Christ and await us at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. The creeds and later the Confessions helped us to see that we are not alone in the Christian journey; our faith is not a 21st century invention but rather a historic and beautiful faith that has stood the test of time, through war, persecution, and even times of peace Christ has maintained and grown the church. The Confessions help us to see that. The early church creeds arose out times of great persecution, and the confessions of London and Westminster arose out of the freedoms granted following the painful persecution that plagued the English reformation. In these writing we are reminded that God has been at work building is church for two millennia, lead by the Spirit and His Word.

They Connect Us to One Another

In the Creeds and Confessions we see an underlying interpretation and understanding of the Gospel. As such they help us to bridge denominational lines, they help us to see where we have commonality and not only our difference. Our blog is a good example of this. We are a confessional blog, not a denominational one. We feature guys from a variety of backgrounds but we unify around two important (and yet distinct) confession: Westminster and London. The key distinction in each is their interpretation of baptism, but every other tenant is almost exactly the same with a few variations. As such our writers must agree with one of these two historic documents of the reformed Christian faith. These documents help us to see our great commonality around the truth of scripture rather than our one disagreement on the application of it.

They Point Us Back to the Scripture.

I saved this one for last, because it is the most important. The confessions are not an end in and of themselves and are never meant to be, they are a tool by which we see and go back to the scriptures. If someone calls themselves confessional and yet the bible is not where they have found these truths then they are far from it. To be confessional is to see the truths of these confessions in scripture not in the confessions. If I hold to salvation by Grace alone because the London Baptist Faith says it is biblical but have not examined the scriptures and seen it to be true, than I am relying solely on the word of man and this is the furthest thing from the point of the confessions and creeds. They help us to see the scriptures more clearly not to replace them. Unfortunately, many in the “confessional” camp at times seem to miss this point. When we ascribe to a confession of faith we must be ascribing to the fact that it most clearly represents the truth as revealed in Scripture, not because it is trendy or cool. 

What That Verse Really Means – Matthew 18:20

There are a number of Bible verses that well-meaning people often quote at different times which twist Scripture into saying things it never intended to say. Some of us have probably heard or been guilty of using the phrase, “Where two or more are gathered, there am I among them.” This statement of Jesus from Matthew 18:20 is usually quoted when there is low attendance at some church function. Basically, we want to tell each other, “Hey guys, there may only be a handful of us here, but Jesus is with us.” It is true that Christ is among a small group of church members, but Matthew 18:20 isn’t saying it in that way.

Many people would be surprised to discover that Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:20 deal with church discipline. I’ve always heard it said that a text without a context is just a pretext. So let’s look at the context. Context is best found by reading the verses and chapters before and after. To discover what Jesus means in verse 20, we only need to read verses 15 through 20. Jesus says there,

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

The concept of church discipline is foreign to many churches today because we live in a society that embraces inclusion and we don’t want anyone to feel left out. Also, we may have seen this practiced in an unbiblical way and thrown out the baby with the bathwater. But due to our throwing out church discipline, we have an even more serious problem: unregenerate church membership, or worse, unregenerate church leadership. 

Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has pointed out that Southern Baptists, America’s largest denomination, haven’t included a statement on church discipline in their doctrinal beliefs (The Baptist Faith and Message) since prior to 1925. Yet there is no avoiding it here; Jesus is talking very plainly and clearly about church discipline.

We can’t say with Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” When a person becomes a believer, they join a family, and families love one another. What compels families to hold interventions for an alcoholic parent? Love. As church members, we’ve got to ask ourselves, “Is it really love that motivates me to keep quiet when a brother’s foul language ruins his witness or when a sister’s addiction to pain pills enslaves her?” We may say it is love that silences us, but it is really fear. Love compels us to confront brothers or sisters caught in sin. Fear stands idly by and watches while someone’s life implodes, while love acts to rescue them. This is why we have a Good Samaritan’s Law which criminalizes onlookers who don’t help a person in danger. Real love is concern in action; a heart attached to hands, feet, and a yes, even a mouth.

But how is church discipline to be exercised? Are we to go around pointing out each other’s sins every time we see one another? Of course not. Jesus gives us some very clear steps to take and each imply some covenant relationship between both parties. These steps are to be carried out among members of a local church who have covenanted to care for one another spiritually. We’re not the spiritual police for the planet, but we are responsible to our fellow members.

Step One

According to Jesus, step one involves going to the sinning brother or sister on a personal level. Paul explains the spirit we should have in step one this way: “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 5:26-6:2). The aim in every step is restoration, yet loving confrontations enables this. If they do not “listen” and refuse to express any change of mind (repentance) about their sin, we move on to step two. 

Step Two

This involves bringing one or two others. Why? They can be extra witnesses, they add seriousness to the need for repentance, and this allows others a chance to persuade them. If repentance occurs, the process stops and restoration begins. If they refuse to listen even to these two or three gathered in Christ’s name, then the church body as a whole is to be notified. 

Step Three

And by “tell it to the church”, Jesus doesn’t mean the universal church! So sin that was once a matter between two members, due to ongoing unrepentance, has now become a matter for every member of that church who has covenanted to care for one another spiritually. This process probably goes on for a period of months and involves many prayers and tears first individually, then among the two or three, then as a unified church body. If however, this individual is so entrenched in sin that they refuse to repent even before the church body, the church is to respond by no longer treating them as a fellow member, but as an unbeliever in need of salvation. Paul uses the language of handing them over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh so that their spirit might be saved in the end (1 Cor. 5:5). Even biblical ex-communication aims for eternal salvation!

So what does it mean when Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them”? It means that if two or three believers go to an unrepentant brother or sister on behalf of the church, that individual should know they come with the authority and presence of Christ himself. We are all sinners, but we are all repentant sinners. Unrepentant church members must know that their sin not only brings them out of fellowship with fellow believers in their church, but out of fellowship with Christ himself. So in the event that you find yourself among the two or three going to confront another brother or sister living in sin, take Matthew 18:20 with you…and pray for the miracle of restoration.

How to serve God in the midst of Opposition

This week I picked up Andy Davis’s new book on Church Revitalization and was going to write a blog in reflection on one of the chapters that I found thought provoking, however it seems Dr. Davis beat me to the punch in his own article this morning. For that reason I will let him do the talking and I’ll make a quick note at the end.

10 Reasons to Be Humble Toward Opponents

Andrew Davis / April 24, 2017

Gospel Coalition Editors’ note: This is an adapted excerpt from Andy Davis’s new book, Revitalize: Biblical Keys to Helping Your Church Come Alive Again. Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2017. Used by permission.

From elementary school (when I had my last schoolyard “fight,” which I lost) until I became senior pastor of First Baptist Church Durham, I had no human enemies. Yet within 18 months of beginning my ministry at this church, I had dozens who at least wanted me fired, perhaps sued, and, it seems, possibly (based on facial expressions) dead. That experience was shocking to me. My ministry and convictions had earned me many enemies.

God doesn’t will for us to give in for an instant on issues of biblical truth. It’s not humilty but self-serving cowardice that causes us to back down from doctrinal attacks. We must fight like lions for the truth of the gospel—the souls of our hearers are at stake.

I think it’s unlikely for a work of church revitalization to go on without overcoming significant human opposition. But God commands us to be humble toward our opponents, entrusting ourselves to him. This is among the greatest displays of grace. And it’ll be instrumental in transforming your church.

As personal conduct goes, I believe there are at least 10 reasons we should be humble toward our opponents.

  1. Because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5). 

God detests pride in any form, and if church revitalizers are more zealous for their own agenda than God’s glory, he will fight them as much as he will fight the nominal Christians at that church.

But God gives grace to the humble. So humble yourself, and God will lift you up.

  1. Because we are sinners too.

Every church leader, no matter how godly, is a sinner saved by grace. We all deserve eternal condemnation. How are we different from those who oppose us? Is there any sin we see in our opponents that we are incapable of? “Who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:7)

Meditating on God’s grace in your own life should destroy any arrogance you may feel toward others.

  1. Because God is motivated to fight for those who don’t fight for themselves.

In this way, we’ll be following the example of Jesus Christ and how he treated his enemies: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet. 2:23).

In entrusting ourselves to him who judges justly, we’re forsaking the right to defend ourselves. God’s wisdom and power in defending those falsely attacked when serving him are beyond our calculation. And God will use our humble suffering to advance his purposes in the church.

  1. Because Paul was willing to trade his salvation to rescue his enemies.

In Romans 9:1–4, the apostle Paul made a stunning claim—that, if possible, he was willing to trade his salvation and spend eternity in hell if it would result in the salvation of his Jewish enemies. He had “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” in his heart concerning their spiritual condition.

Paul is a great role model for any leader in church revitalization. His Jewish enemies were hunting him down to kill him. Ours are doing far less. We should see our opponents in light of eternity—and yearn to win them over to Jesus.

  1. You can’t tell the wheat from the weeds.

In Christ’s parable about the wheat and the weeds, the mixed nature of the world—sons of God and sons of the Devil—could not be remedied before the end of the age. The servants offered to pull up the weeds; the master said, “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them” (Matt. 13:29).

This indicates that before the end of the age, we won’t always be able to tell the difference between wheat and weeds. Paul, the greatest servant of Christ who’s ever lived, was initially the most vicious persecutor of Christians on earth. God’s grace can win any person at any time. Today’s hate-filled enemy may be tomorrow’s zealous co-laborer. And it is “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) that God will use to win them.

  1. You aren’t the issue; God’s glory is.

When we pridefully rise up to defend our honor, we act as though that’s more important than the glory of God in the revitalization of a church for whom Christ shed his blood.

  1. A humble response to attacks will motivate church members to join you.

If you respond to mean-spirited attacks in like manner, it will be obvious to everyone you’re no different from your enemies. But if you are filled with the Spirit, speaking only scriptural truths and seeking repentance and reconciliation with every person, quiet observers will be strongly motivated to come to your aid in the church revitalization process.

  1. Your enemies may be right . . . about something.

It’s exceptionally humble to listen to your adversaries with the conviction they have something worth listening to. While we may disagree about the most fundamental issues having to do with the gospel or the scriptural principles of healthy church life, they may have a valid perspective God wants you to heed regarding some key aspect of the issues or of your own demeanor or performance. God can speak anytime through anyone.

For example, God enabled wicked Caiaphas to prophesy accurately about Christ (John 11:49–52). If God can speak through someone like Caiaphas, he can speak to a church leader in the midst of difficult revitalization work.

If some enemy comes to you after a particularly challenging meeting and says you were rude or you misrepresented his position or you did not follow Robert’s Rules of Order or you did something else he doesn’t approve of, be humble, take the input, and repent wherever you can.

  1. Humility will adorn the gospel for outsiders to see.

We never know who is watching us as we carry on our work of revitalization. And the world is watching the church all the time to see if we practice what we preach. Titus 2:10 says Christians can “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” by how we act.

If you’re genuinely humble while dealing with in-church opposition, the Lord will at some point make it obvious to the community and use you to bring some lost person to Christ.

  1. Suffering well grows you in Christlikeness.

Never forget that the ministry God gives us is as much a part of our own salvation process as it is a part of the salvation of others. Our sanctification is far from over, and God uses bitter trials to conform us to the likeness of his Son, Jesus Christ. This is why Romans 5:3 says that “suffering produces endurance.” We need to be thankful for our enemies, because God is using them to shape our souls for his glory.

The Original Article can be found at the Gospel Coalition website: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/10-reasons-humble-toward-opponents

-As Pastors and as leaders in general we all have critics and for most of us it is probably one of the hardest parts of the job. We think everything is going great and then the voices begin. This short series of 10 points derived from Dr. Davis tenth chapter reminded me, along with Mark 11:27-12:12 which I preached this past week, that we are but tenants in God’s Garden called to watch over and tend to the vines and when the time comes give them to God, both the one who praise you and critic you are under your care so love them well, and remember they are all in God’s hands.

 

 

Marks of the Church

Early on in the study systematic theology most examine the attributes of God, that is, those characteristics that describe who God is. In this post today I’ll look to the attributes, or marks, the Scripture uses when speaking of the Church. These marks have been points of identification for not only what the Church is in general but also what makes a healthy local church. Though there are many modern and historical confessions and creeds that point to various and important marks of the Church, I want to focus on the oldest creed that does this – the Nicene Creed. In the Nicene Creed, written around 325 AD at the council of Nicea, we read the following statement: “And we believe in One, Holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church…”

One

To say the Church is one is to say the Church is unified. When we come to the Son of God in faith we are united to the Son. Because we’re united to the Son, we’re accepted by the Father, and because we’re accepted by the Father John 17:23 tells us that the Father now loves us even as He loves His own Son and because the Father loves us He sends the Holy Spirit to reside in us. So every believer is in the Father and the Son and the Spirit, yet in our union with the Godhead we don’t lose our own distinctive identity or personality. Because of this work of God’s grace, being a Christian is more fundamental to our identity than the family we come from, the ethnicity we represent, the job we labor in, it is even more important than our nationality. The unity we share with other Christians is greater than any other bond we have in this world. This means where Christians exist, diversity always exists, but the stunning thing about the witness of a healthy church is that in the midst of diversity, there is unity. Therefore, our unity is a visible display of the invisible gospel.

So, true unity begins with the gospel, is upheld by the gospel, lasts by the gospel, and spreads because of the gospel. Paul writes of Jews and Gentiles at the end of Ephesians 2:14-18, saying that God has “…abolished the dividing wall of hostility that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And He came and preached peace to you were far off and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” Did you notice here that it is the gospel alone that upholds unity? How did God get rid of the hostility between Jew and Gentile? The cross of Christ, where He remade one new man from two separate peoples. If we continue down in Ephesians, going all the way 3:10 we find the purpose of this unity. God’s purpose is “…that through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” What is on display in the unity of the Church? None other than the very character of God. Remember, you can’t physically see the gospel; but when we foster and encourage community that is supernatural, it makes the invisible gospel visible. Union with Christ, brings unity in Christ.

Suppose you wanted to heart a large room with burning coals, how would you do it? Do you spread the coals evenly throughout the room? No. That would dissipate the heat and eventually each coal would burn out. So how do we heat the room? You push all the individual coals together into one pile in the center of the room, and as they burn together they become one large heat source that’s brighter and hotter, and warmth will fill the room. Such is the unity of the local church. The more unified we become the brighter and hotter we’ll burn with the heat of the gospel, and the brighter and hotter we burn with the heat of the gospel, the more compelling our community becomes in its witness to the lost.

Holy

1 Peter 1:14-15 says, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct…” Here we are presented with the reality that for Christians, holiness is to be pursued. v14 and v15 say the same thing in different ways. v14 says it negatively saying ‘do not be conformed to ignorant passions’ and v15 says it positively saying ‘be holy in all your conduct.’ When you combine the commands in v14 and v15 you have a clear picture of what the pursuit of holiness looks like. Since we’re called to not conform to ignorant and wicked passions, being holy means we conform to what is good, what is true, and what is beautiful. What is good, true, and beautiful? God Himself.

We’ve seen this in Old Testament Israel, they were set apart by God from the surrounding nations to be holy. Now Christ’s Church is to be set apart from sin and the surrounding world to be holy herself. Israel was to look different from her neighbors, and now the Church, though in the world, is to look different from the world. v14 calls this type of life ‘obedient.’ Therefore obedience for every Christian means conforming to Christ rather than the world around us. This means holiness is not optional for the Church. Holiness is not just something for mature Christians, holiness is not just something for pastors and elders, holiness is for all Christians, in all times, in all places. I know that each of you has at one time or another asked God this question, ‘God, what is Your will for my life?’ Listen to 1 Thessalonians 4:3, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” You can’t get clearer than that.

It is said that the moon, though appearing to be very bright, has no light of it’s own – it only reflects the sun. The same is true of us, in and of ourselves we have no holiness, we are mere reflectors of God’s pure light. Peter says the same thing as he continues his passage “…as He who called you is holy, you also be holy…” while v16 quotes Leviticus 11:44 where God says, “Be holy, for I am holy.” This teaches us that the foundation of our own holiness is God’s holiness, that our holiness is a reflection of God’s holiness.

catholic

Some of you right here from the start may be alarmed at such a because you may believe by teaching the ‘catholic’ nature of the Church that we are affirming the Roman Catholic Church. We are not doing that. We will never do that. So why use the word ‘catholic?’ Well the word ‘catholic’ that the Nicene Creed uses here has a lower case ‘c’ not an upper case ‘C.’ You may not think this matters very much, but the size of the letter ‘c’ determines alot. While an upper case ‘C’ indicates a proper noun and refers to the institution of the Roman Catholic Church, the creed’s usage of the lower case ‘c’ indicates the original sense of the word, which simply means ‘universal.’ Therefore to say the Church is catholic, to define the Church as having ‘catholicity’ is to say the Church is universal. This means Christ’s true Church is formed by all the people who, in all times and in all places, have believed in Jesus Christ as He is offered to us in the gospel.

In Revelation 5:8-14 Jesus took the scroll the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before Him, with their golden bowls of incense, and then what happened? They sang a new song with these words, “Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God from every TRIBE and LANGUAGE and PEOPLE and NATION, and You have made them a kingdom of priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Later on after this all the hosts of heaven and earth sang two more songs singing these words in v12 and v13, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing…To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

These new songs the living creatures, the elders, the myriads of angels, and all those on and under the earth are singing is a song of praise to the Lion-Lamb Christ who acted in redemption, purchasing for God…what? A universal Church made up of all peoples. Notice the new song being sung isn’t about the glory of America, or English speaking peoples, rather it’s about the glory of Christ who has redeemed men and women from all peoples and all tribes and all languages and tongues.

Apostolic

The meaning of Apostolic is given to us within the word itself. To say the Church is ‘Apostolic’ is to say the Church is founded on the apostle’s teaching. The book of Acts makes this crystal clear in Acts 2:42 when Luke, the author, says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Here we see a summary of what the early Church devoted themselves to or continued steadfastly in when they gathered together. They devoted themselves to prayer, to the breaking of bread (Lord’s Supper), and fellowship. But notice what’s on the top of the list here? “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching…” Above all they did, the central object in focus was the teaching of the apostles. This is why we say that the apostles’ teaching is the foundation of the Church.

This is clear to most of us I think and, clear as it may be, it does bring up a number of questions, questions that need answering. Questions like: ‘Who were the apostles?’ ‘What did the apostles teach?’ and finally ‘Why is the apostles’ teaching so important?’ To answer this briefly I’ll just say this. The apostles were common, ordinary men who became Apostolic representatives by the power of the Holy Spirit, who then through the inspiration of the Spirit turned into Apostolic writers, who have left in their writings an Apostolic witness for the Church for all time. Therefore the Bible you hold in your hand is the only Apostolic authority for us today as well as the sum and substance of Apostolic teaching.

As the early Church devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, let’s do the same today.

Images of the Church

Today I want to discuss images of the Church. BUT, do not think of the ‘images’ forbidden in the 2nd commandment when I say images of the Church. Rather, think of the ways in which the Bible describes the Church; the metaphors and the descriptions of it. There are many of such images given to us, let’s take a look at the ones most often used.

The Church as a Building

Many people often refer to the ‘church’ as a building, and while they may not know it, they’re closer to the truth than they realize. The Church is a building. Of course I’m not referring to the physical brick and mortar, but the individual men and women who have believed in Jesus who are then made into a spiritual building by God.

Peter makes this point in 1 Peter 2:4-8 saying, “As you come to Him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.”

Jesus is portrayed here as the chief cornerstone, rejected by men but chosen and precious to God. All mankind responds to this cornerstone by believing or not believing. Those who believe on Him, Peter says, are being built up as living stones into a spiritual house. The function of this spiritual house, which is the Church or the New Covenant priesthood, is to offer up acceptable worship to God through Christ. When they do this, they will never be put to shame. For those who do not believe, this cornerstone isn’t chosen and precious but offensive and uncertain. The picture we get here is that while the believers are being built up into a spiritual house with a firm foundation, being built together for the purpose of worship, all those who do not believe are shamed and stagger about in life aimless and hopeless with no foundation.

In Matthew 16:18 Jesus promises that the Church will always be because He will build it though all hell is afraid of it and eager to wreck its success. Though the Church appears weak in this world we are indeed ever steady and ever firm because of our foundation stone, Jesus. There is no more physical temple any longer, Jesus has tabernacled among us and in His flesh fulfilled the physical temple. Now, all believers are the temple of God, made not with human hands but by the hand of God Himself, and in which God dwells. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). The Church is the building of God.

The Church as a Body

Another image used for the Church through Scripture is that of a body. To say this is to say that the Church is the Body of Christ. Jesus is our head, we are the body; the hands, feet, toes, fingers, knees, ankles, and elbows of Christ. You see the correlation right? Just as the correct operation of all the parts of our physical bodies is necessary for normal life to occur, so too to say the Church is the body of Christ is to say that each member of the Church is vital to the correct operation of the whole. So each member is a living extension of the greater body, and is dependent on all the others. And just as the body as a whole only works rightly when it works together as a unified whole, so too the each member and each local congregation of the global Church should always strive to be so united. Also, just as our physical head leads the body it sits atop, so too Jesus is the head of the Church. Naturally then, as goes the head so goes the body. Or to say it another way, the Church ought to submit to the Head and only go where Jesus leads.

Body is used as a designation to refer to the universal Church as well as the local church. In Col. 1:24 Paul shows us the universal nature of the body of Christ saying, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church…” Paul’s suffering in his own flesh is a witness and presentation of Christ’s sufferings to the universal Church, or body of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-12 is an example of this designation being used to refer to the local church. “And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” In context, Paul is referring to the gifts Jesus gave to the Church after His ascension. Though there are ways in which we can clearly see the universal Church being spoken of here, especially as we continue into v13-15, we also clearly see ordinary activity of the local church too. How? Where is it that the saints, the body of Christ, are equipped to do the work of ministry? In the local church. Where do those saints exercise these work of ministry once they’re equipped to do so? In local churches all around the world. So held within the image of the Church as the body of Christ we see the necessity of unity in that all the members ought to be striving toward the same goals with the same purpose. We see the activity of the local church to equip the saints for the work of ministry, and we see the grand scope of the universal Church as the context into which those saints are sent to do the work of ministry. The body of Christ is indeed simultaneously the most diverse and unified group of people on the planet.

The Church as a Bride

One of the most famous images of the Church is one of the most intimate images given in Scripture. This of course, the Church as the Bride of Christ. Throughout the Old Testament God refers to Israel as His unfaithful and adulterous wife. As we cross over into the New Testament we see it’s the Church who, though unfaithful like Israel, has a husband in Christ that is ever faithful. Ephesians 5:25-27 says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” It may seem strange to some of you that as believers we all have a common husband already in Christ, but this is how the Bible encourages us to think of ourselves in relation to Jesus. We are His bride and He is our husband. We submit to Him and He lovingly leads us. He labors in us and through us to see to it that we are made more and more holy like He is until the day we see Him face to face.

That day will be a day unlike any other, and we’ll realize that every wedding ceremony we’ve ever seen or been in was just a foretaste of the greater marriage to come. Rev. 21:2-4 says, “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’” This is the marriage supper of the Lamb, when we will be presented holy, spotless, and flawless to our Lord Jesus. We will forever be His people and He will forever be our God.

The Church as the Pillar and Buttress of the Truth

Lastly, in 1 Tim. 3:14-15 Paul makes use of an image of the Church we don’t often speak of. In that passage he tells Timothy, “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” To say the Church is a pillar and buttress of the truth is to say the Church is the guardian, the defender, the protector, and the citadel of the truth in all ages against all those who oppose the gospel. This has a twofold application. As the Church defends the truth by proclaiming the truth unapologetically, the Church also protects the truth by teaching it to the Church every time it gathers together.

But what truth is the Church to guard, defend, and protect? Paul mentions this truth in the very next verse in 1 Tim. 3:16 when he says, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” This is none other than one of the earliest and most concise summarizes of the work of Christ we have. Some people even think this was one the early creeds of the Church. All that to say, the truth the Church is to guard, defend, protect, teach, spread, rejoice in, and treasure above all things is the gospel itself. In a day when deep convictions about religious beliefs are seen as arrogant, narrow-minded, and even antiquated do you see the calling the Church has from Scripture? She is called and equipped by God to be an institution of proclamation, an bastion of propagation, that preaches the truth of gospel of God from the whole counsel of the Word of God to everyone soul that will hear.

The building, the body, and the bride of Christ. Called out of this world to boldly and lovingly proclaim the truth of God to this world. This is the Church.

Who Prays…..

In the church today one of the most overlooked elements seems to be the importance of prayer. 

While we all may agree that prayer is an essential part of the Christian life we seem to, at times, relegate it to nothing more than a passing conversation with God. When we look at the Scripture this is not the case, nor is it simply a private matter. At the start, middle, and end of every day our greatest need is to be refreshed by the gospel and the power of Christ, and we experience this reality most closely when we are in prayer. Prayer is an essential aspect of the Christian journey seen throughout the Bible. The book of Psalms displays for us the grandeur of the prayers and cries of the people of God, multiple epistles open with the Apostle’s prayers for those whom he is writing, the Pentateuch records for us many prayers of Moses and the early fathers seeking God. The Bible is filled with prayers, but at times we may lose sight of who is praying and where their prayers are directed.

The Church Prays

First, prayer begins in the church. This may seem foreign and to some even false, but prayer at its core is both private and communal, both aspects are in play. The book of Psalms were sung and prayed by the whole congregation of Israel, they were used as elements of worship to God as the spoke His words back to him. In our churches today this may take the form of singing praises to God as well, which are in fact communal prayers. However, it is not only in the singing of songs and psalms that we see the church pray it is through the actual act of worship on Sunday mornings and prayer gatherings where the church is encouraged to join in prayer for the work of God in the lives of their brothers and sisters and in the outworking of the Gospel around them through the ministry and direction of God in the church. Within the church we see modeled for us the prayers of the saints of old and the hearts of our brothers and sisters. The church models for us proper reverence and familiarity with the almighty. It is from this modeling that we pray individually.

The Saints Pray

Now from the church gathered we move into our own individual areas of influence and life. While we may at times cross paths with other saints, often we work and do life outside of continual interaction with the our church family. It is in this that we are reminded that our faith is more than just a communal gathering; it is a life dependent on Christ. If you live form Sunday to Sunday with no recognition or dependence on God through the week that is not healthy and is probably a sign of a greater spiritual problem, for while the church gathers and we are lifted up in prayer, we too must be in prayer and communion with God throughout our lives. So you may ask then the question of ‘how then shall we now pray?’ 

Well Scripture shows us a multitude of options, but it also shows us that it begins in the attitude of worship before God.

Firstly, we come to God with an understanding of His Kingship. He is the Almighty God who rules reigns and judges humanity of their sins and rebellion. He has created the universe and knows the deepest parts of us. At first this may sound terrifying and lead to a fear of coming at all, but when taken in the full context of who God is it should do the opposite. This understanding helps us to see that He is to be revered and not to be taken lightly. He is the great King, who can handle all of lives problems, for He is the one who has decreed life itself. Therefore we should be led to Him in humility and reverence for who He is.

Secondly, we remember that He is our eternal Father. He is the one who loved us and sought us out through the work of Christ. He cares deeply for us and can handle our life’s complaints and trials. Look again at the Psalms, there are many that reflect to God the fact that His ways make no sense and are confusing. One of the most interesting Psalm 88 ends with no resolution of how God will bring salvation in the midst of pain, it is a prayer that speaks to God as a scared child who doesn’t understand and is crying out to his Father for comfort, in the midst of confusion. The prayers of lament are some of the most powerful because they show us that it is okay to be confused by the works of God, and it is okay to tell Him. Don’t worry He can handle it, remember He is a loving Fatherly King, who’s desire is for His children to come to Him not hide from Him.

Finally, because He is our fatherly King who loves us, we are able to confess our faults and find forgiveness and rest in Him. He is the one who declared righteous, through the death and resurrection of the Son, all who repent and believe. He has made us whole; He is the One who initiated the relationship with us, when we were His enemies, how much more now that we are children, does His love for us spread. He can handle your problems and He already knows your sins, so do not flee His embrace, but turn to Him and experience the full warmth of His forgiveness.

With this view of God in mind we come to him both at designated times and continually throughout all of life. We are to set some time aside to be with God and focus on Him alone, but we are also suppose to be in continual prayer throughout the day knowing that it is God who we need for everything. Let us pray in times of joy, sorrow, confusion, success and failure, because our kingly Father cares and loves us through it all.

Urged By Our Need in Preaching and Hearing

I am preacher. I am also a sinner. This dichotomy causes me to feel, almost always, the gap between the wonders of the truths I preach and the coldness I often feel within my heart. Each time I walk up to the pulpit I am urged by my need to cry out to the Lord and ask Him to do what I am unable to do: change hearts, raise the dead, sanctify the Church.

Because of this I am often looking for new words to express myself in prayer directly before I preach. Lest you think this is just for preachers, don’t turn away just yet. This is not just for me, or just for preachers…this is for all of us because each congregation should also be aware of their pastors inability apart from God’s grace. So just as we preachers are urged by our own need to cry out for help when preaching so too every Christian in the congregation should also be crying out to do through their pastor what he cannot do.

Keith Getty and Stuart Townend have given all of us words to express these desires. This song is from 2005 and it’s called ‘Speak O’ Lord.’ Here’s the lyrics:
“Speak, O Lord, as we come to You, to receive the food of Your Holy Word. Take Your truth, plant it deep in us; shape and fashion us, in Your likeness. That the light of Christ might be seen today, in our acts of love and our deeds of faith.

Speak, O Lord, and fulfill in us, all Your purposes for Your glory. Teach us, Lord, full obedience, holy reverence, true humility; test our thoughts and our attitudes, in the radiance of Your purity. Cause our faith to rise; cause our eyes to see Your majestic love and authority. Words of pow’r that can never fail, let their truth prevail over unbelief.

Speak, O Lord, and renew our minds; help us grasp the heights of Your plans for us. Truths unchanged from the dawn of time, that will echo down through eternity. And by grace we’ll stand on Your promises, and by faith we’ll walk as You walk with us.

Speak, O Lord, till Your Church is built, and the earth is filled with Your glory.”

Here’s how it sounds: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=my90e3a_nlM

Pastors, may you be encouraged to cry out as you study and before you preach with these words. Church, may you be encouraged to be praying this for your pastor(s) throughout the week and while he preaches. The more we rely on and remind ourselves of our need and God’s sufficient grace in our need, the more we all will benefit.

The Word that Sparked the Reformation

I’ve heard it said that one spark from a campfire can travel over a mile before burning out. But there is one spark that has managed to travel thousands of miles, even across oceans, and through five centuries of time and has spread a blaze across the world; this spark is the reformation doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The word that sparked this Reformation is the word ‘sola’ or ‘alone’ in English.

In his book Faith Alone:The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification, R.C. Sproul remarks, “It was the sola of sola fide that was the central point of dispute…Martin Luther and the Reformers insisted that justification is by faith alone. Rome affirms that justification is “by faith,” but not “by faith alone”’ (page 36, 122).

How could such a small word carry so much weight and cause so much controversy? Because the word sola differentiated not between two different ways of understanding the gospel of Jesus Christ, but two totally different gospels altogether: the true gospel and a false gospel. In the Roman Catholic view, which hasn’t changed since, our good works contribute to our salvation. In the Reformers’ view, which also hasn’t changed since, we are totally depraved sinners who cannot contribute anything to our salvation except the sin that reveals its necessity.

When you really boil it down, the Roman Catholic understanding of justification is a false gospel that teaches we are not as sinful as the Scriptures reveals us to be, God is not as holy as the Scriptures reveal Him to be, and the cross is not as essential as the Scriptures reveal them to be.

The current leaders of the Church of England have called for Protestants to “repent of the sins of the Reformation.” Some may agree with them and see the Reformation as an unnecessary division in the one body of Christ. Many in our Western age of tolerance consider any divisions, whether doctrinal or anything else, to be from a lack of love. But it would be foolish for us to repent of the sins of the Reformation not only because we weren’t there to do them, but also because it wasn’t a division of the one body of Christ at all. Rather, the Reformation marked a differentiation between those in the true body of Christ and those in a heretical body claiming Christ. As far as the unloving claim, it was love and unity for the protection and preservation of the true body of Christ that drove the Reformers to take the stand they did. Rather than repent of the Reformation, we ought to rejoice in it. Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, and their fellow Reformers fought for the purity of the gospel and for the purity of the church and we owe them a great debt.

Some have argued that the Reformers held to a view of justification that allowed for sin. They claim that the constant use of the word alone or sola actually implies a salvation that doesn’t have any connection to good works or righteous living. The Reformers were not teaching, however, the unbiblical notion that our justification and our sanctification are not related. Rather, they were teaching that our sanctification flows out of our justification, not vice versa. John Calvin himself noted that while we are saved by faith alone, it is not by a faith that is alone. Justification produces the fruit of sanctification. Where Rome went wrong was that they confused the fruit with the root. If, according to Rome, our salvation is through faith and works, then we have something to boast about and this would turn heaven into a big merit party (“Look at how much I did with my life”). But, aligning themselves with Scripture, the Reformers taught the full and free gospel of God’s grace to guilty sinners who would repent and believe. This is the salvation that consumes the attention of the worship of heaven.

We have so much to be thankful for when we think of the Reformers. They refused to offer to the world a checklist and say, “Here is how to get saved.” Instead they heralded the true gospel of grace and so extended to the world a crucified and resurrected Savior who said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

May we never cave to the voices around us that call for an end to our resolve to stand on the gospel of grace. These voices are more than five hundred years old, going back to the garden of Eden where the serpent questioned, “Did God really say?”

May we stand with the Reformers in our own day, no matter what the culture thinks of us and say, “Yes, God did say that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.”

Then, may we extend the only true gospel to all types of sinners, while calling them to repent and believe in Christ.

Learning something from an Old Dead Guy

For many of us in Reformed Christians circles this is a very important year, as it marks the 500th anniversary of Luther’s nailing of the 95 theses to the wall of the Castle church at Wittenberg. This one single event sent into motion a tidal way of change that left the western world scrambling to find out what the true meaning of being a Christian is about. Over the next century men and women would rise up and take a stand for the truth of the Gospel and the proclamation of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The reformation began at Wittenberg, but for most of us it had its fullness shaped in Switzerland.

Now when I talk about the importance of Switzerland many immediate go to John Calvin, and while he is an important part of the reformation he was not the first in Switzerland to begin the journey, that title belongs to a man named Ulrich Zwingli. Zwingli was one of the first preachers of the reformation to institute strictly exegetical biblical preaching based on the practice of John Chrysostom the great early church father. He not only viewed the Scriptures as supremely authoritative; he found it to be the only source of true faith and worship. Zwingli was a man driven by the truth of Scripture (as he saw it) and finding his purpose and ministry goals summarized in the Scriptures and not in some external reality. For many this may have made him an extremist. He removed art and music from worship spaces feeling that only the word of God should be seen and adored in the church, all else would simply lead to idolatry. He focused the attention of the early reformation to think about the reasons for communion and baptism according to the scriptures and not according to traditions handed down.

This is all well and good but why do I bring up Zwingli today and why does all this matter? Well first Zwingli shows us that even men that have since been forgetton or overshadowed by history still speak through the history of those who were influenced by them. The vast majority of the writings and systematic teachings of John Calvin found in the Institutes will arise from the teachings of Zwingli and his protégé Bollinger. The modern reformed churches emphasis on exegetical preaching can be traced back to his reformed movement in Switzerland. For while Luther was busy being a professor of theology Zwingli was working as a pastor in Zurich.

We owe a great debt to the man for his contributions to how we think about preaching as he pointed us back to the Scriptures and the church fathers as examples of preaching the word, not our own opinions or feel good messages. Maybe you have at times felt like your ministry was just spinning its wheels, you are teaching the gospel, you are following the Scriptures but the results or long term effect is not what you imagined.  Zwingli’s legacy points to the fact that it is okay to be forgotten as long as the message remains and is supreme.

The other thing that is so important to remember about this early reformer in our modern context is that while great in some theological ways, he was not perfect. Among all the reformers Zwingli is probably one of the most problematic for most, and this was due, oddly enough to what also his his best characteristic, his encouragement of his people to read the Scriptures and see the truth for themselves. In opening the Bible to the people he saw that they came to a “radical” view when it came to baptism and other aspects of the faith. Out of this bastion of freedom and authority in scripture Zwingli openly sided with the state to persecute and kill those who did not agree with his view of the Bible, especially in regards to baptism. Many Anabaptists were drowned in the local rivers for their stance on baptism. He like Luther was firmly committed to his interpretation of the Bible and the ordinance that to think or speak other than the way he did was to be accursed by God. This was the main reason why these two men could never reconcile during their lifetimes; this division was too great and their dislike for the concessions of the other too much. Each man was unwavering and hostile to the other almost as much as they were against the Catholic Church.

The break between Luther and Zwingli has been one that makes perfect sense in their time and place and yet 500 years later I still find puzzling. Of course we today live in a very pluralistic society with many different faiths and Christian denominations, while in the 16th century West there was the church and the schismatic sects of the reformation. Today the church is made up of varying points of views on things such as Communion and Baptism, but these things don’t divide our fellowship and love for one another, rather they should encourage us to dive deeper into the Scriptures to know why we believe what we believe and where it is rooted in the text. I am the pastor of a Southern Baptist Church while the other men on this blog range in their affiliations holding a variety of views on these very subjects. But rather than cutting each other off we grow from one another’s perspectives on the text. There are battles to be fought, but some of the battles need to be discussed with love, humility and the understanding that we may have missed the mark on something. One of the great marks of the church is the love for one another.

This is the last lesson I learned from Zwingli. We can have all the right theology but if we have no love for the family of God and the souls of the lost sometimes we end up dead on a battlefield…..that wasn’t needed to be fought.

Also today marks the anniversary of the council of Trent the affirmation that we as protestants are an anathema, so yes there are still battles to be won: through prayer and the proclamation of the gospel. 

It Never Gets Old

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another…” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

A couple of years ago I had the privilege of attending the Ligonier National Conference. One of the great truths I was reminded of at the conference was the fact that it does not matter how many times you have read through the Bible or how many times you have heard a certain passage preached there is still so much to learn about Scripture and God. The pastor who made this point, mentioned how he loves to see 85 year-old saints who walk up to him with a big smile on their faces because they just learned something new about the Lord or had been reminded of something encouraging. We are never too old to learn something new. Nor can we ever hear the Bible preached enough. There is always something new to glean from Scripture. In fact, we will never know everything there is to know about God or the Scriptures. Therefore, we will always be learning.

It is so easy to come to a passage of Scripture that is very familiar to us and say, ‘I have already read that’ or ‘I have already heard that preached, so what could I possibly learn? I am just going to skip it.’ This is the complete opposite attitude that we are to have. Charles Spurgeon said, “Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the book widens and deepens with our years.” The more we learn the Bible the more we realize how little we know and how much more we need to learn. The Bible is full of wisdom and truth. It reveals to us who we are (sinners in need of a Savior), it reveals who that Savior is (Christ Jesus), and it guides us in how to live. It is sufficient for faith and practice.

There is much for us to learn still from the pages of Scripture and much to be reminded of. We can never know it enough. We are told that All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. It is so profitable to us that we are to learn it and relearn it and know it well. One of the best ways to do that (in addition to your own personal reading) is in church where you can hear the teaching and preaching of God’s Word on a regular basis.

Therefore, let us not forsake the assembling together’ but rather let us be eager to meet together to grow in our knowledge of God.

Two ‘Musts’ for Youth in Church

Any pastor wanting to care for the needs of the youth in his congregation, should (in my opinion) believe two things essential things: you must be faithful to Jesus, and fruitful in youth culture.  Here are some thoughts on these two essentials:

a) FRUITFUL IN YOUTH CULTURE:  In order to be fruitful in youth culture I think you must have fun.  Why?  Because youth by definition are young people who live very active, energetic lives.  Therefore to be fruitful in youth culture, a youth ministry must be geared to, prepared for, and seeking to create an environment that is just that – active, energetic, and yes ‘fun.’  In saying this I do not want to give the impression that I think a youth ministry exists to ‘entertain’ youth.  Entertaining must not be a goal, ever.  Creating environments where youth can be youth is the goal.

b) FAITHFUL TO JESUS:  In order to be faithful to Jesus in youth culture you must be dead serious about the gospel.  Can any ministry really exists and function well to the glory of God if it is not dead serious about the gospel?  No.  Youth need to see that they can be who they are, while being faithful to Jesus at the same time.  Which means that they need to be taught and embrace the truth that they can be faithful to Jesus while being active, energetic, and fun.  We should never teach or live in such a manner as to give the impression that ‘church’ is just for old people who are dry and crusty.  Rather, every ministry ought to strive to give the impression that ‘church’ is for all kinds of people who’ve been acted upon and made alive by God Himself regardless of our varying ages.

Bottom line?  When the gospel moves among a youth ministry Jesus will be glorified, exalted, treasured, and lifted up, not ‘fun.’  Though this is true, it does not mean that the gospel being glorified won’t in itself be ‘fun.’

Thanks for the Sermon Pastor

Well I hope last week opened your eyes to some of the wonders of the Church. there is a reason CS Lewis said, “If God is your Father, the Church will be your Mother.”

Though the Church is great, grand, and glorious we would do well to remember one thing. The Church is Perfected yet In Process. You see the Church would be perfect if no one were in it. When we become christians we are justified, made right with God and had all our guilt removed from us. When God justified us we were declared to be something were not, righteous. In sanctification we are made into what we have been declared. This is why the Church needs to be a place of grace, because we’re all in the process of being perfected. A friend once told me, “The Church is the perfect place for imperfect people who are in the process of being perfected.”

There once was a country pastor who had a small congregation. After noticing a man hadn’t been in fellowship for a month or so he went to pay him a visit. It was winter, so after being invited in to the man’s home, the pastor quietly walked in to the living room and sat in the chair nearest to the fire place. He grabbed a hot coal with the fire tongs and placed it on the concrete slab in front of the fire place. The blazing coal died out in a few minutes. The pastor looked at the man, then grabbed the coal with his hands. Cold. He looked back at the man and then proceeded to toss the coal back into the fire, which blazed anew in a few seconds. The pastor looked at the man again, and the man said, “Thanks for the sermon Pastor.”

The Church on Mission

The Church is…you ready for a hip trendy yet O’ so true and awesome word?

Missional.

We are a people that are to be marked by Christian action. Most of you know this. Evangelism, missions, spreading, are normal Church life operations for all Christians. I fear that most of you though view this wrong. The missional marker of the Church is to be carried out and completed by you.

By saying it must be done by you, I’m saying that you ought to get rid of the idea that ministry is to be done by “professional” Christians called pastors or ministers. There are no professional Christians. We’re all in the same boat. Ministry is too much like a football game where 22 players desperately need a break while the thousands of fans desperately need exercise. Yes there is such a thing as ordained ministers of the gospel, but when you became or become a Christian God makes you a minister and gives you the ministry of reconciliation. 2 Cor. 5:20 says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” This is where the ancient phrase the “Priesthood of all Believers” came from. All believers are priests. All believers are ministers of the gospel and we should see the places God put us as our places of ministry and the people were around daily as our congregations.

We are the Church on mission. One day the mission will be over, then we’ll be the Church at rest. But that day is not today, so get to it and honor God by obeying His great commission.

The Building, the Body, the Bride

Fourth, the Church is the Building, the Body, and the Bride of Christ.

Jesus is called the chief cornerstone in 1 Peter 2:6-7 and on Him, on this Rock, the Church is built up with us, the living stones that God has made and is making, adding to our number daily. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus promises that the Church will always be because He will build it though all hell is afraid of it and eager to wreck His success. Though the Church appears weak in this world we are indeed more the conquerors through our foundation Stone who raises us up to victory. There is no more physical temple any longer, we are the temple of God, made without human hands, but made by the hands of God Himself, in which God dwells as 1 Cor. 6:19-20 says, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” The Church is the building of God.

Another way to say this is to say that the Church is the Body of Christ. Jesus is our head, we are the body, the hands, feet, toes, fingers, knees, ankles, and elbows. You see the analogy right? All parts of the body are necessary, without which normal operation does not happen. Also we see that where the head goes, so goes the body. Where Jesus leads, we must follow.

Again another way to say this is that the Church is the Bride of Christ. Did you know that all Christians are already in a sense married? All of you, if you’re a Christian, have a husband. As reminded in Ephesians 5:25-27 which says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” We as the bride will one day be united with our Groom, and all will be well.

The Church is the global building, the global Body, and the global Bride of Christ.

Created, Gathered, Gifted, and Empowered by the Spirit

So we’ve seen the Church is a glory centered, doxological people standing on the Word of God, today we move to the third characteristic of the Church.

The Church is created, gathered, gifted, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit we can do nothing. The Spirit creates life in dead sinners, gathers them into a group, gifts each member so together they all become the body of Christ, and empowers them to shine in this dark world. Let me show you this from the book of Acts.

Have you ever looked in your Bibles and seen what it says by the Title of the book of Acts? It says, “The Acts of the Apostles.” Wrong title. It should be “The Acts of the Spirit through the Apostles.” Why?

When it begins we see 11 ordinary, untrained, uneducated men, scared that they’ll die like Jesus. They witness the resurrection, experience Pentencost when the Holy Spirit falls, and all of the sudden the same scared men who ran away when Jesus was arrested are preaching, suffering, and doing miraculous things. What happened? What changed them from being timid to robustly bold? The Holy Spirit lives in them! The Spirit was working through them to build the Church. The crazy thing about this truth is this: The same Spirit who lived in them, lives in us. He is enabling and empowering us to spread the gospel across the world, for the glory God.