The True Nature of a Gospel Church — 1
If you were here at Whiddon Valley 10 years ago, and you were able to attend the Tuesday evening Bible Studies, then you may recall that we spent a year thinking about the Biblical Doctrine of the Church. I realise that only a handful of the congregation here today were here then – so our subject material for the next few Lord’s Day sermons may be new to you.
Now that we have completed our studies in 1 Thessalonians I have it laid upon my heart to visit again this vital teaching about the nature, structure and function of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. And for this I want to borrow John Owen’s title
The True Nature of a Gospel Church
There seems to me today to be much confusion concerning the Church of Christ. Many Bible believing Christians today do not seem to have a working theology of the Church. Whether they have lacked teaching or they have been in a Church where Biblical principles concerning the church have not been taught seems to have led to a gap in their knowledge.
And when the subject of the Church comes up, both universal and local, such friends do not seem to know what the Lord Jesus Christ has instituted for His believing people here on earth.
Therefore it will be profitable for us all to look again at the Biblical data concerning the Church.
A.W. Tozer said – “Much that passes for New Testament Christianity today is little more than objective truth, sweetened with song and made palatable by religious entertainment.”
Thankfully this is not our position in Reformed Churches of our conservative persuasion. But many places around us seem to have this mistaken and tragically unbiblical view of Christian Church activity.
What does the Bible say about a New Testament church? Can we define the real nature of a church from Scripture? And how would we describe the ideal local church?
We read from Acts 2 – but immediately we need to sound a note of caution!! This is a description of the 1st church in Jerusalem, and it comes in a NARRATIVE portion of Scripture which, under normal circumstances, should not be appealed to for a DOCTRINAL STATEMENT OF CHRISTIAN BELIEF. This is an account of what the Christians in Jerusalem DID under the guidance and control of the Holy Spirit and therefore it can be for us a kind of example of a New Testament church, but it is not meant to be a strict PATTERN. For the Doctrinal statements and patterns we need to look in the TEACHING portions of the New Testament to see what we need to know about the basis of the New Testament Church.
We can study the Church in a number of ways –
1. By examining the METAPHORS – the pictures from the Bible of the Church;
2. We can identify and list the essential features from the Scriptures;
3. We can study Church History to see whether the churches in the past have kept to the scriptures in their faith and practice.
Perhaps this will bring some stimulation to all of the congregation here to ask several questions of themselves –
Are we Biblical in our Church Life? Are we effective as a church? Are we doing our job as a church in the community where the Lord has raised us up? Are we honouring the Lord Jesus Christ as a Church?
Before we look at the metaphors we should know what we mean by the word CHURCH.
1. Definition of the Word CHURCH.
A. The English term CHURCH
If I mentioned the word Eglwys; or the word église; the word Kirche; some would know that these are the words for Church in Welsh, French and German respectively. Yesterday we met an Albanian lady and we remarked that a certain savoury tart was known as Quiche Lorraine – she told us that Kiche is the Albanian word for Church. Kirche in German, Kirk in Scottish all point to our word Church which itself is derived from equivalent to Scottish KIRK; is derived from the Greek word KURIAKON which is an adjective formed from the word KURIOS meaning Lord – and therefore the meaning is “belonging to the Lord”. The Church is the Lord’s church. But this use of the word was applied by early Christians for the place where they met together denoting it as a place belonging to God, or God’s house. With the realisation that the place had significance ONLY because of the people who met in it, the term was applied to the assembly itself.
From this its meaning has extended to various complimentary uses;
1. A place of meeting, 2. A local organisation of believers; 3. The universal body of believers; 4. A particular denomination; for example Baptist Church; 5. An organisation of believers related to a particular nation or area; for example The Church of England.
B. The Greek word ECCLESIA.
“EK” means out and KLESIA comes from the word “to call”, compare with Ecclesiastical; means “called out, summoned out or gathered out” – that is a group of people formed into an assembled number.
The word can be used in several ways.
1. The whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth or in heaven.
Ephesians 1 v 22 And God hath put all things under his Christ’s feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,
3 v 10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,
3 v 21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
Sometimes this is called the UNIVERSAL Church.
2. EKKLESIA is not always used to describe a church – it is sometimes referred to as – AN ASSEMBLY.
Acts 19 v 29 And the whole city was filled with confusion: and having caught Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul’s companions in travel, they rushed with one accord into the theatre. 30 And when Paul would have entered in unto the people, the disciples suffered him not. 31 And certain of the chief of Asia, which were his friends, sent unto him, desiring him that he would not adventure himself into the theatre. 32 Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly was confused; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together.
Acts 19 v 35 And when the townclerk had appeased the people, he said, Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there that knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is a worshipper of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter? 36 Seeing then that these things cannot be spoken against, ye ought to be quiet, and to do nothing rashly. 37 For ye have brought hither these men, which are neither robbers of churches, nor yet blasphemers of your goddess. 38 Wherefore if Demetrius, and the craftsmen which are with him, have a matter against any man, the law is open, and there are deputies: let them implead one another. 39 But if ye enquire any thing concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly. 40 For we are in danger to be called in question for this day’s uproar, there being no cause whereby we may give an account of this concourse. 41 And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly.
Three times ecclesia occurs in these verses 32, and 41 – referring to an assembly of an unruly mob and v 39 as a lawful assembly – but not a church.
3. Most frequently in the New Testament it refers to a LOCAL group of Christians. In this sense a church is an assembly of baptised believers under the discipline of the word of God. They are organised to carry out the Great Commission, the administration of the ordinances and the exercise of spiritual gifts. For example:–
After Ananias and Sapphira met their end we read in Acts 5 v 11
And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.
When Barnabas had successfully located Paul in Tarsus we find him in Antioch –
Acts 11 v 26 And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
Then Paul writes to the Christians at Corinth with these words –
1 Corinthians 11 v 18 For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.
1 Corinthians 14 v 34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. 35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
When a group of Christians follows this example today it is a Church in the Biblical sense of the word. In the New Testament, believers assembled as churches for fellowship, instruction and worship, and to carry out the Great Commission of evangelism. Those churches best known in the New Testament are Jerusalem, Antioch, Thessalonica, Philippi, Corinth, Ephesus and six other cities mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3.
And it appears that these churches were distinct from each other. A Church member at Philippi was not a member of the Church in Colossae.
Ecclesia occurs 114 times in the New Testament. However not even ONCE is ecclesia used to describe a building in which the believers met together; nor a national church; nor a group of churches such as synods or presbyteries; nor a denomination. Groups of Churches are greeted in the New Testament –
Galatians 1 v 1 Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;) 2 And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia:
NOTE: Not Church of Galatia. Galatia was a region not one city. So ecclesia describes a “gathered out community in a certain town or place”.
Philemon 1 v 2 And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house:
Ecclesia mostly therefore describes a local assembly of all who profess faith and allegiance to Jesus Christ having been called out of the unbelieving community.
It is most important for us to see that this data is Biblical and not traditional. It is God’s idea to form Christians into local assemblies, congregations – for the reasons of close identification with each other; for the accountability to each other in the pursuit of holy living in a wicked society around; for the proclamation of the Gospel to the local community; and for the mutual love and support for members one of another.
As we delve deeper into further Bible facts we must keep these things in mind – not only what the church is – but also what the church is for!
Let’s continue by examining the Bible pictures of a local Christian church –
2. The Metaphors.
A Metaphor is a figure of speech which helps with descriptions. For example, “the devil is like a roaring lion…”
There are 7 distinct New Testament metaphors for the Church.
Three are very SPECIFIC descriptions of a local individual church – the other 4 are of a more general nature and include the concept of the UNIVERSAL CHURCH of Jesus Christ.
Three Specific Metaphors. a. The Building b. The Body c. The Household or family.
Four General Metaphors. d. The Vine e. The Flock f. The Bride. g. The Priesthood.
A. The Building.
Ephesians 2 v 11 Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; 12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: 13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; 15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; 16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: 17 And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. 18 For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. 19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; 20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; 21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: 22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
This is a picture of a Temple building. There are several features of a building!
1. A building needs a foundation.
Jesus spoke of a house built upon a rock. Modern houses have “footings” – concrete deep below the ground. Bridges have deep piles of metal to give them strength. – I remember once in 1961, I was an Air Training Corps cadet and I went on a Summer camp to the RAF station at Kinloss. Twenty two years later I returned as an Army Scripture Reader and I remember where the huts were, but 22 years later the huts had gone, but what remained were concrete standings on which these huts had been built, they were wooden huts, and the concrete slabs were still there. They were foundations still to be observed there!
The spiritual Temple foundations have 3 elements –
1. The Apostles v 20 – 12 Apostles + Paul
2. The Prophets v 20 – for example Agabus and all the Old Testament prophets
3. Jesus Christ v 20 – the Chief corner stone.
The cornerstone of a building, in addition to being part of the foundation and therefore supporting the superstructure, finalizes the building’s shape. It is placed at the junction of two primary walls and so determines the lay of the walls and the cross walls throughout the building. All other stones are adjusted to this cornerstone. (from William Hendriksen New Testament Commentary p 142, 143.)
Paul expands on this truth in 1 Corinthians 9 v 9 – 16
9 For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? 10 Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope. 11 If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? 12 If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ. 13 Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? 14 Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel. 15 But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void. 16 For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!
Who founded this Independent Church in Barnstaple? The Oveys ? The Stangers? None of these – it was the Lord Jesus Christ Himself who is the founder and the foundation of the local church.
2. A building needs walls. v 21.
It is good to have stability and direction in foundations – but GROWTH is needed next. The church grows as the walls go up – like the manse extension – the building rises – brick on brick, stone on stone, pillar upon pillar, beams laid across; the shape appears – but still dependent on the cornerstone for direction.
This part of the metaphor is the picture of the members taking their places in the building, harmoniously fitting together. This is a living building made of LIVING STONES who are the true believers. Notice in this building there is:–
ORDERLINESS – each brick has its place – getting on well with the next door bricks, the “on top” bricks and the “down below” bricks – none of them are askew – all are laid in a straight line and take their direction from the corner stone – Jesus.
LOADBEARING – each brick has a task – each brick is vital to the building – has its own particular load to bear –
Joseph Hall said “There is no place for any loose stone in God’s edifice.”
Believers therefore are cemented together in membership and by the cement of love between them and love for the chief cornerstone.
Dr Peter Masters says “No wall or window frame may drift in or out of the building as though Christian Liberty was the opposite of Christian commitment.”
I believe that committed Church membership is taught here and this building has been designed by God so that HE HIMSELF can live in this beautiful building.
This metaphor of the building teaches that there is no place for Spiritual Gypsies who flit from church to church, from fellowship to fellowship, and who are never prepared to be cemented together with other lively stones (believers) for God’s glory in one place. If there are any amongst us who have done any building work, they will know how difficult, if not impossible, it is to remove one brick from a wall without damaging it or the rest of the wall. They also know that a pile of bricks on their own without mortar between them are extremely unstable and are likely to fall in disarray.
Are you praying for new stones to be added to the building, God’s beautiful Temple Building here at Whiddon Valley? I wonder just how many are waiting to be called to be part of the building here? Is there room for them here – that is the challenge!
God has a purpose in building churches – collections of lively stones. The church is God’s major tool for the accomplishment of His will on earth. His elect sheep will be brought in VIA THE CHURCH.
His glory will be shown as Paul says in Ephesians 3 v 21
Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
The gospel of saving grace is to be spread by the CHURCH. And Paul in 1 Timothy 3 v 15 says
But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
The Church is described as a building made up of “a holy people zealous of good works.”
Is this that kind of Church? It should be and we all need to strive to make sure that it is.
A second metaphor is one that we can easily identify with – because we all have one!
B. The Body.
Ephesians 4 v 1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; 5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. 7 But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. 8 Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. 9 (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
Dr William Hendriksen commenting on these verses says that “this section emphasises unity – not external and mechanical, but internal and organic. It is not superimposed, but, by virtue of the power of the indwelling Christ, proceeds from within the organism of the church. Those therefore, who, in their ecumenical zeal are anxious to erase all denominational boundaries and to create a mammoth super church can find no comfort here.” p 181.
A congregation is far more than a number of people all listening to the same preacher. Rather it is a church membership in which ALL the members have very significant places and roles and the whole church is dependent upon each and all of its members. Such is the picture of the BODY – Features of a Body.
1. Organic Unity.
All the parts of my body are in one place – here – now – I haven’t left anything at home! There is wonderful and awesome organisation in this body which the Lord has given to me.
2. Diversity of Function.
Different parts of me do different things – I do not write with my feet – nor run with my ears – each part has its own differing function.
MY whole body depends on my heart to keep my blood pumped round and round – blood distributes food and oxygen and warmth to everywhere else; and takes away for disposal carbon dioxide and waste chemicals from everywhere else.
But my heart depends on a good nerve supply from the brain and the brain needs its own blood supply to keep it operating. There are two sorts of interdependence –
1. The whole body depends on its parts; 2. The parts depend on each other.
There are two main parts of the human body – the head and everything else – arms, hands, legs, feet, organs, main body.
Anatomy and Physiology are fascinating sciences –
Psalms 139 v 14 I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.
But Anatomy and Physiology is not our purpose this morning.
The Body is a SPIRITUAL picture.
1. The head. Ephesians 4 v 10 – 16.
10 He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
The head of the body is the Lord Jesus Christ. Every body needs a head.
“The Church is Christ’s body, and the body of a man goes by the same name as the head.” (Anonymous)
Jesus is not only the foundation of the church but he is also the Head of the Church. Functions of the head –
1. The head tells the rest of the body what to do.
Ephesians 1 v 22 – 23 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.
2. The head rules the rest of the body and exercises his will over it, as illustrated in the marriage passage in Ephesians 5
22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. 24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
3. The head is interested in maintaining the body in good condition – Christ loves the church.
Ephesians 5 v 28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. 29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: 30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
Jesus finds, as head, his full expression of Himself in His body. So the body carries out the will and the purpose of the head.
2. The Body or torso. Ephesians 4 v 16.
16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
In this body there are many members – but all of the parts are harmoniously fitted together and held together. Amazing! And like the cement of love joining the stones together in the building, in a body their is something called CONNECTIVE TISSUE – and again this is the picture of the members loving each other in unity.
And like there were more stones waiting to be added to the building – so a body grows too – we grow up into Him… The body grows through the supply of energy distributed to each part through the head. Christ nourishes us – His body – he feeds us and He warms us.
The body metaphor is primarily used to emphasise the mutual relationships of the members to the head, and members to other members.
Albert Barnes in his commentary says this about the body – “The whole human body is admirably arranged for growth and vigour. Every member and joint contribute to its healthful and harmonious action. All depend on the head with reference to the most important functions of life, and all derive their vigour from that. So it is with the church. Everything is designed to be in its proper place. Its officers and members are, in their places, what the various parts of the body are with reference to the human frame.” p 104
We learn from this metaphor that a body is seriously disadvantaged by the loss of a member – it dies without the head – but it becomes weak and impotent if parts of it are missing.
1. So as members of this body – can a Christian opt out from being a church member? Can a body function without a liver? A nose? A foot? Don’t we need every part of our bodies to function well in life?
2. There is no circumstance in which a believer cannot be part of the body of Christ – except perhaps one – and that is amputation – Biblical Church discipline – exclusion from the assembly and that should only be until repentance and restoration has occurred through much prayer and exhortation from the officers. In a future sermon we will look at this question of membership in practical terms.
3. The body needs co-ordination – it needs agreement amongst the members who look to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself to give them common purpose in church life and work.
4. But when part of the body suffers the whole body does – have you ever stubbed your toe? We bear one another’s burdens – weep with those who weep etc.
This then is the metaphor of the body. Are these features in place here at Whiddon Valley?
It is good to ask this question – because there is much at stake – the honour of the Lord Jesus Christ the founder and head of this Local Church.
We who belong here are responsible to Him our Saviour to maintain the cause of the kingdom in this place. He has presenced himself here as the foundation and as the head. We are his body. We are called to be healthy; we are called to be holy and reflect the holiness of Christ our head.
Is he your head my friend? Are you in loving submission to Him? Are you for Him or against Him?
May the Lord Jesus Christ Himself bless His word to our souls and draw us even closer together in His work here, for His glory’s sake.