The True Nature of a Gospel Church — 10
There are some essential features of the True Gospel Church that we can identify from the Scriptures
A True Gospel Church will have
1. BIBLICAL PREACHING. 2. BIBLICAL CHURCH GOVERNMENT. 3. BIBLICAL WORSHIP AND ORDINANCES. 4. BIBLICAL FELLOWSHIP.
Biblical Preaching at the top of the list reflects what the True Gospel church is really about. The Church’s supreme task is to teach and to preach the Word of God!
All that we need to know about how to be a local Church we believe to be in the Bible.
Before we begin to look at a our second essential feature of a True Gospel Church let us remind ourselves about what a local Church is really for and what its status is, Biblically. We can use the word PRIMACY this morning when we consider the position of the Local Church in God’s plan for the world.
The primacy of the local church.
The primacy of the local church means that the local church has primary importance in the world today. In this present age the church is the primary means through which God is accomplishing His purposes. The church is God's programme through which He saves the lost, edifies and builds up believers, and glorifies Himself. The Church is the centre of God's plan for the world. Consequently it should be a top priority in the life of every believer.
1 Timothy 3 v 15 which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
The church is the one institution that God has promise to build and bless. We should direct our energies and efforts to support the local church. This then begs a question –
Why do people reject the primacy of the local church? There are several reasons why the emphasis on the local church has decreased in recent years. Here are a few of them:
a An over-emphasis on the universal church.
Some think that because they are part of the universal church, they have no need of a local church. Others claim that their ministry is to the body of Christ in general instead of to a certain church. But the Bible clearly teaches that a believer should attend, support, and work within the context of a certain local congregation. The metaphors pointed us this way.
b The rise of the Para church.
Another recent phenomenon has been the rise of the Para church (“para” means beside or alongside). Para church organisations are designed to assist the local church in accomplishing its objectives. Any agency that is trying to do Christian ministry but is not directly tied to a local church is Para church. The main problem with Para church ministries is that they can become a substitute for the church. People often commit their time, financial resources, and talents to a Para church organisation rather than to the church. Para church organisations may also intrude into areas that are the express domain of the church, which they have no right to do. Obviously not all Para church organisations are necessarily bad.
A third reason that people reject the Primacy of the Local Church is
The modern independent spirit has led many to forsake the local church altogether, replacing it with a personal, individualised faith. Some think they can worship God by themselves, in front of their TV or computer screen at home, on the golf course, or out in the countryside. Contrary to the individualistic spirit of our culture, the Bible emphasises corporate worship rather than personal worship. People can and should worship God on an individual basis. But that is no excuse for forsaking the assembly of believers.
In this day of family instability and break up, families need as much time together as they can get. But people often use their family obligations and activities as a way to get out of church responsibilities. Sporting events, travelling, family reunions and the like are more “fun” than church, and they strengthen the family, so why not skip church for family time? Family for most people is more important than the church. That is, the ties and responsibilities of members of a family to that family are stronger than ties a church member has to his or her church. One challenge of the Christian life is to balance both family and church life. Both are important. Neither can be neglected. But one fact that some overlook is that church is a family event and is something that will strengthen and help the family. Church is a family outing! So when a family neglects the church, it is really harming itself. Church and family are the two most important elements in the Christian life. Anything that keeps a family from being together at church should take a back seat. Obviously, there are emergencies and non-typical things that occur, but the norm should be for the family to be together at church.
In some churches parents often let their children skip church for various events. If this is a regular pattern, what message do you suppose the children pick up?
Surely that Church is one of many options in life and they can pick and choose what suits them best. If it is not important, if it is not a number one priority for Mum and Dad then it will not be important or a number one priority for the children.
It will have quite an effect on the future lives of those children.
e Disillusionment with the church.
Many people have simply given up on church. They are sick of the politics, gossip, discord and pettiness that sadly can be part and parcel of church life. Such believers may retreat to a personal, individualistic faith that is not dependent upon a church, or they may gravitate toward Para church organisations. Such disillusionment is understandable, but it is not defensible Biblically.
To sum up: * the local church has primacy. It demands our commitment and allegiance. * Para church ministries do not share the primacy of the church, and should not infringe on church responsibilities. * there are many reasons someone might manufacture to explain why he or she is not a participating member of a church. None of them is legitimate.
Some people moving to a new area refuse to join a church unless they find one that is “just right”. But is this Biblical? There is all the difference between attending a church and joining it.
With these things said how good it is that the Lord has provided such a society of believers who love each other in the form of the Local Church. How good it is to belong. How wonderful to have a family. And all this in the midst of a society where families and other groupings are crumbling. It is our responsibility as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ the head of the Church, to maintain at all costs, our allegiance to Him together, and our commitment to each other together! May the Lord help us, each one, to do everything to promote fellowship and harmony together here!
Our second major heading in the list of Marks of a True Gospel Church is that a New Testament Gospel church will have
2. BIBLICAL CHURCH GOVERNMENT.
How is such a body of people, a church, to be governed?
The word GOVERNMENT does not appear in the New Testament with a connection to CHURCH. But there is no doubt that Churches were and are governed. There are 2 Governing words in the New Testament.
Kubernesis koo-ber’-nay-sis from kubernao (of Latin origin, meaning to steer); is rendered government in
1 Corinthians 12 v 28 And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments,
Governing is steering, guiding.
Kuriotes koo-ree-ot’-ace; (Kurios – Lord) means, in the AV, dominion 3 times, government 1; as in 1 Peter 2 v 10 where it refers to
one who possesses dominion.
Some Christians are fed up with church structures and long for freedom from bad experiences of tyrannical church rule through officers who are neither called nor gifted; or through undisciplined and unloving church members who believe that they have sovereign rights to do and say what they like, whatever the effect on others.
Therefore they abandon church membership and vote with their feet.
Some folk resent authority and anyone in authority and dislike someone else having authority over them so that they cannot be themselves.
But others are quite happy to be led by others who will make all the tough decisions for them leaving it all to the leadership!
There is a dictionary definition for GOVERNMENT – “Rule, control, administration of public affairs, system of polity, executive power.” OED
Does a church of Jesus Christ need Government?
Should there be any control over what we believe or what we do?
Does a family need control?
Do individual human beings need to be controlled?
An ordered society seems to need government and control all the time.
The human body has feedback mechanisms which ensure smooth functioning of out total beings. E.g. – breathing.
Electrical circuits have controls governed by fuses or trip switches – if too much electricity flows
We have psychological and spiritual controls in our human natures – Galatians 5 speaks of the fruit of the Spirit. Temperance = self-government – self control. Personal internal control.
It would appear that the Body of Christ, the Church, also needs control and government – because the church is made up of sinners who are in the process of being sanctified and are not yet perfect. Therefore the church needs to have a self-control mechanism. The Lord Jesus Christ knew this and left scriptural instructions.
1. Christ is the Governor of the Church.
The Lord Jesus Christ is the head of the Church. He is the Lord who has dominion over His church. The beginning of life for the believer is the confession as Jesus as Lord –
Romans 10 v 9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
The Church exists under His Lordship and He is the one who builds His church and calls it “my Church”. – Matthew 16 v 18.
2. Christ’s sheep are the Members.
Jesus commands us to be in local churches. His prescription in Matthew 18 v 15 – 17 for discipline includes the telling of matters, which had not been resolved in private, before the Church.
3. Members are committed to each other.
Acts 2 v 41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. 42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
Acts 5 v 12 And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch. 13 And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them. 14 And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.)
4. Jesus gave instructions about Church Government.
Matthew 18 v 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. 18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Power and authority from the Lord Jesus Christ is given to the local church.
5. The Church is made up of Members and Office Bearers.
The scriptures teach RESPONSIBLE leadership which must be trusted to function and respected for the sake of the church’s work. However the leadership must not in any way LORD it over God’s heritage. Church Officers are sheep also and subject to the Chief shepherd.
6. The Principle Responsibility of Church Officers.
To bring the entire local church fellowship to stand committed to the ministries of that local church.
Ephesians 4 v 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:
The principle responsibility of Church Members is to be totally committed to sacrificial service of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“The New Testament knows nothing of free-lance Christianity. It is the CORPORATE witness of the redeemed fellowship that is used by the Holy Spirit of God.” Geoffrey King.
So let us now proceed to think particularly about how the Church should be governed. Government requires a head
1. The Lord Jesus Christ is the head of the Church.
Any legislative authority in the Church does not belong to any man or Denomination, but to the Lord Jesus Christ alone. He established this in the commissioning of His disciples – in Matthew 28
18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
Paul proclaims this in Colossians 1
18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence.
And Ephesians 4 v 11 – 12 which we read a moment ago, in which it is clear that ministers are appointed only by virtue of His authority.
Christ’s will is expressed in the inspired scriptures. He said to His disciples in John 16 v 12 – 14.
12 I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. 13 Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. 14 He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.
“He is the direct author of the tradition of the apostles, because he himself is at work in the apostolic transmission of His words and deeds.” (Oscar Cullmann)
We must now recognise HOW the Lord Jesus governs His church –
2. The Lord Jesus Christ governs His church by His Word.
He governs His church by the objective standard that is His word – again Matthew 28
19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
These words are a COMMANDMENT from the Sovereign Lord to His church whom he governs by His Word – what He has said – and by His Holy Spirit who lives in the heart of every believer.
Ezekiel 36 v 26 – 27 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.
Psalm 40 v 8 I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart. And 1 John 2 v 3 – 6 read.
The Lord Jesus Christ therefore governs His church by His word and by His Spirit.
How then does this work in practice?
3. Christ Governs His church in its local manifestation by means of the rule of elders.
Every church should have duly appointed elders who rule by the Word of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 13 v 7 Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. and 17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.
1 Thessalonians 5 v 12And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;
John Brown the minister of Haddington in Scotland lived from 1722 – 1787. He was a remarkable man who learned New Testament Greek while a shepherd boy looking after sheep in the hills around Abernethy in Perthshire. He became one of the greatest preachers that Scotland has known, and towards the end of his life an accomplished scholar, best known for his Systematic Theology.
In that book in the section on Church Government he said this – it is quite a long statement but is entirely relevant even though coming, as it does, from one who espoused Presbyterian forms of Government.
His subject is the elders of the church and their relationship to the members of the church.
“A Christian church is a very free society. But they mistake the matter who consider the church a DEMOCRACY. It is a MONARCHY – Christ alone is the monarch – He is the head. It is a monarchy administered by inferior magistrates (by this he means elders) chosen by their fellow subjects (that is fellow subjects to Christ), who are to execute the King’s laws; (these men rule only by the word and they are under the authority of the Word) being guided solely by His word; and neither by their own judgment or by caprice (whim), nor by the opinions or the will of those whom they govern. Just as it would be wrong for elders to govern out of the stuff of their own whims – it is equally wrong for them to govern out of the stuff of the whims of those over whom God has placed them. They are to govern ONLY by the standard of the word of the Living God. Christ is the Lord and He administers His government by officers appointed according to His ordinance and regulated by his laws. It is of great importance both to the office bearers and private members of the Christian Church, that they have distinct scriptural views in this subject; that the elders may not exact what they have no right to – that is they must not rule beyond the precepts of the word – and the people of God, that they may not refuse what, by the Law of Christ they are bound to give – namely submission to their elders, in that they rule by the Word of God.”
Elders are sheep. They are members of the flock.
Yet they have the awesome responsibility as those who will give an account to God at the day of judgement for the souls of their fellow members. But they have the law and commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ to rule by and the authority of Jesus Christ to govern.
4. The God assigned task of the Elders.
An accurate summary statement. The task of the elders is to exercise positive, authoritative, humble government over the total corporate life of those whom they have been called to serve.
They are NOT to govern the total individual life of Christians – that would be heavy shepherding.
POSITIVE GOVERNMENT – not to lay back and merely make suggestions; they are to give positive leadership – exercise the oversight.
1 Peter 5 v 2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;
AUTHORATATIVE – that is they are to be self-conscious of their authority derived from the Lord Jesus Christ. When they exercise this positive oversight with authority they are not acting as mere men, but as men who are acting in office appointed by Christ with the authority of Christ.
1 Peter 5 v 3 Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.
Humble elders need to recognise that they themselves are sinners; in themselves they are liable to err, but that they are creatures who live in dependence upon God as they exercise this positive authoritative humble oversight of the total corporate life of those whom they serve.
1 Timothy 3 v 4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)
Here a parallel is drawn between a father in his home and the elder in the flock of God.
Ruleth well – positive quality and requirement.
A father is to exercise wise, positive, authoritative humble government over the total affairs of his household.
If a man cannot exercise this kind of rule in the lesser sphere of the family, how can he expect to do it in the wider sphere of the Church of God.
1 Timothy 5 v 17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.
– Ruling – not suggesting or a consensus committee and rubber stamping the consensus of the congregation – but rather RULE.
Acts 20 v 28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
– Shepherd the flock of God.
The scriptures give positive direction to the people of God to give obedience to the elders under the Lordship of Christ.
5. Practical Implications of this Teaching.
5.1. Elders are not consensus seekers.
An elder is not to merely catch the feeling and thinking of the congregation. The words rule, oversight and govern cannot mean rubber stamping the consensus of the people.
5.2. Elders do not have to give an explanation for every decision that they make. Parents often have to make decisions in the home without having to justify themselves to their children. An elder is to be a man of sound judgement – and if he is not then he has no business being an elder. He must be sober and trusted in the oversight of the church.
5.3. Elders are to be obeyed unless they clearly violate the precept of Christ. Elders cannot bind anyone’s conscience and the individual believer has every right should this happen to refuse to obey. Most of the decisions that cause people irritation in a church are NOT THOSE that violate the law of God. They are decisions that involve value judgements on available information.
Our time has gone and we must draw to a close.
The Marks of the True Gospel Church are all here in the scriptures. We are bound to follow such commands from our loving Head and saviour the Lord Jesus Christ. Surely we all wish to please Him who has sacrificed His own life so that we may have the freedom to obey His instructions for organising and governing the Church.
May he give each of us the desire to do His will at any cost and may we be blessed in our obedience to Him.