The True Nature of a Gospel Church — 8
A man called Ernest Southcott said “We don’t GO to church; WE ARE the church!” By this he means that Church is not so much a place to go than a people to be.
Vance Havner says, “I believe in loyalty to the local church. I do not believe in that view of the INVISIBLE church that makes you INVISIBLE AT CHURCH!”
We have spent several weeks looking at the 7 lovely Bible metaphors for the Church both in its universal and local expressions. We cannot linger any longer on these and their pertinent applications – because today we must go further under our general subject heading of The True Nature of the Gospel Church.
Having established what the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is, we now need to identify and evaluate the proper Marks – the distinguishing Characteristics of a Bible believing Christ honouring Church of believers.
Here at Whiddon Valley we seek to fit into the Bible descriptions of a local church.
Hebrews 12 describes the church as
23 … the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, …
Paul clarifies this when he speaks to the church members at Colossae about the Lord Jesus Christ the head of the church like this – in Colossians 1v 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 preeminence.
But what sort of Church should a local Church be?
Should it be like the Churches of New Testament times? There are some eminent believers in history, and who live today, who believe that so long as we can get back to be what the New Testament churches were like – who chronologically were nearer to the Apostles and the Lord Jesus Himself – then we would be in a much better state in our era! One can understand such sentiments – but we should ask which one of the New Testament Churches should we be seeking to emulate?
Should we be like Corinth – the church which allowed sinful sexual immorality in their midst according to 1 Corinthians 5, and who needed much correction from the Apostle Paul in his letters to them?
Or perhaps we should think about emulating Laodicea – situated in such a pleasant area with warm natural health giving water springs near them – yet they were called by the Holy Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ LUKEWARM and in danger of being spewed out of His mouth!
Or perhaps we should be like Ephesus – that city of Pioneering success for the Apostle Paul – where there were remarkable conversions and a challenge to the pagan culture of Diana worship. How sad that we read that Ephesus lost her first love and was in danger of having the candlestick of the presence of Christ removed from her midst!
The truth is my friends that no church is perfect!
The Church’s Master, Jesus Christ, is perfect. Her head, the glorious saviour is perfect and holy – but she, the members, is not yet perfected. There is a process going on in every church or should be, of sanctification of individual believers. Corporately, as a church, they will demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies and perfects by degrees. Paul explains it to us in Ephesians 4 v 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 fullness of Christ:
Others have rightly identified that we do not look back only to the examples set by the early New Testament churches – but to the express teachings of the New Testament Doctrinal passages – in particular the letters. So there is a desire for a local church to become a kind of ‘Doctrine Club’ where Doctrine is the only mark of orthodoxy. All the beliefs about God, the Bible, the creation, church government and local church practice are all neatly and tightly packaged in creeds and statements of faith written down – alongside the unwritten traditions that become doctrines too, if we are not careful. This can get out of hand and lead to legalism. Having said this we also say that of course we do have a solemn duty to maintain the purity of doctrine in our church as we have it in the whole of the scriptures – trusting in God the Holy Spirit to lead us to learn and know God’s truth, as it is in Jesus Christ alone, through His Word alone. We are commanded to do this in Jude 3
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. 4 For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
We therefore DO need to have some pointers to enable us to identify from God’s Word the marks of a true Gospel Church.
John Hooper the Puritan helpfully says this, “The Lord hath given us three principal signs and marks by which we may KNOW His church – The WORD; THE SACREMENTS and DISCIPLINE.”
So – if we pay close attention to these things, will they help us to be an IDEAL and TRUE Gospel Church?
Certainly we must pay close attention to these three and strive to achieve and to attain what the New Testament tells us that the Church of Jesus Christ should be. Looking back can be fairly helpful – but looking forward and upward is better.
Another Puritan William Plumer said, “Ever since God had a church of redeemed sinners on earth, the future of her destiny has always been brighter than her past history!”
There must therefore be some essential features of the True Gospel Church that we can identify from the Scriptures. Here is a suggested list.
A True Gospel Church will have:-
1. BIBLICAL PREACHING. 2. BIBLICAL CHURCH GOVERNMENT. 3. BIBLICAL WORSHIP AND ORDINANCES. 4. BIBLICAL FELLOWSHIP.
There is an order in this list that is deliberate – for the first 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! What ever else the Church may properly do, that will be subordinate and subsidiary to Biblical preaching. There was a day when the State Church in our land adhered to what were called the 39 Articles of Faith. If only she had kept to them. She would not be involved in multifaith dialogue and shared worship services with Muslims and pagans and all kinds of other false religions. Article 19 says this “The Visible church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached.”
Preaching the pure word of God! Where is the pure word of God preached today my friends? Where are men standing and saying “Thus saith the Lord?” The Church is the God ordained preacher of Salvation and it is an urgent task.
1. BIBLICAL PREACHING.
If your employer or circumstances, in the providence of God moved you away from North Devon – and you found yourself in a strange town what would you be looking for when you investigated the local churches and tried them out? Often we have folk coming here who have moved and they tell me at the door that they are going round the churches in the district to find which one would suit them best.
What is on such people’s Church shopping list? What would YOU look for if it were you? Warm welcome? Comfortable feeling in the worship? Famous Pastor? Lots of young/middle-aged/older people – this will depend on your own age. Nice building? Good reputation?
OR would you listen to the Preaching before deciding where to worship?
My friends I would say to you most sincerely that the most important thing to look for in a new Church is Biblical Preaching!
If the preaching is truly Biblical preaching, if it is edifying and inspiring – then it will make up for much else that may be imperfect in that church. And as the old hackneyed expression has it “If you find a perfect church – be careful not to join it – because you would spoil it” holds true. Why?
Because churches are full of sinners! Yes they may be redeemed sinners, but they are not yet perfect redeemed sinners – and if another redeemed sinner who still has faults joins a church the equation is such that that church will be increased to more potential redeemed sinner activity.
SO OUR FIRST PRIORITY SHOULD BE TO LOOK FOR BIBLICAL PREACHING AND TEACHING.
My friends we at Whiddon Valley Evangelical Church are committed to this aim as we work and witness here in Barnstaple. We are striving to be those who centre all that we do on the Bible and what the Bible teaches. I was asked the other day by one of our neighbours, “What does EVANGELICAL MEAN?” Evangelical means that we believe the Bible, the whole Bible and nothing but the Bible and seek to live what we believe. We want to hear God’s voice speaking to us when we read His word publicly and when His word is expounded, explained and taught. God has promised to teach His people – but he does it through the means of His word the Bible under the spiritual guidance and leadership of the Holy Spirit of His son the Lord Jesus Christ. We pray for people who are moving here – that this is what they will find when they come – God’s word preached and taught. If they come for the worship style, the warm welcome or the age spread of the congregation, then they will find what they are looking for somewhere – it may be here – I trust that we will be warm and welcoming and that our Biblical worship will be something with which they will agree.
Yet for their souls’ sakes they must listen for God’s voice!
Although the majority of the preaching and teaching is my responsibility as your pastor – others are involved in the ministry of the Word too – Sunday School and Bible Class – teachers and speakers; Seekers and Wednesday Bible Club – teachers and speakers; Lady’s Meeting, Men’s Breakfast, Residential home services – speakers And those who come to preach and to teach while I am away – all are dedicated and committed, at all times, and in every meeting, to BE BIBLICAL AND SCRIPTURAL! This is a tremendous responsibility for all of us. (Confession p 78 Para 11)
We cannot be called an Evangelical Church unless we are an Evangelical Church. It must not be in name only – but it must be by belief and practice.
Let us now for the rest of this sermon think about the
FOUNDATIONS OF BIBLICAL PREACHING.
We begin with a brief History of Biblical Preaching.
1. Who was the first recorded preacher in the Old Testament – and therefore in the History of the world?
We will find him in Genesis 4 but it is recorded in Jude 14 that he was a preacher.
And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints,
Enoch was the son of Jared. Enoch’s name means “instructed or trained up”. Which means that his father taught him God’s ways. Enoch was the seventh from Adam – 7 short generations from the beginning of time and the world. Enoch preached to the people of those days against the wickedness of his day and against the false teachers who at that stage sought to turn people from God. How soon in the history of the world sin set in. Enoch preached through the naming of his son Methuselah. “When he dies the flood shall come!” That is the meaning of Methuselah’s name. Enoch the preacher – who walked with God – and walked right into heaven when God called him without dying.
2. A close second was Noah. Again he is mentioned very early on in the Bible in Genesis 5 at the time of his birth – but again we find the record of his preaching in the New Testament in 2 Peter 2 v 4
For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; 5 And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly;
3. Then we come to a reluctant Preacher. He appears in Exodus 3 and you will know him as Moses. His commission from God to preach was very clear and it is found in Exodus 14 v 15
And the LORD said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward:
Moses’ preaching was powerful and life changing for many in the nation of Israel.
4. Joshua is next – Moses’ successor. We can note his preaching role in Joshua 22 v 1 – 6.
Then Joshua called the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh, 2 And said unto them, Ye have kept all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, and have obeyed my voice in all that I commanded you: 3 Ye have not left your brethren these many days unto this day, but have kept the charge of the commandment of the LORD your God. 4 And now the LORD your God hath given rest unto your brethren, as he promised them: therefore now return ye, and get you unto your tents, and unto the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you on the other side Jordan. 5 But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the LORD charged you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul. 6 So Joshua blessed them, and sent them away: and they went unto their tents.
5. After this come the Judges and the prophets – preachers of God and his righteousness. There were schools of these prophets right from the days of Samuel the last of the judges into the times of the kings and until the captivity of both Israel and Judah.
6. But then appears the great preacher – the great preacher of Righteousness – the Lord Jesus Christ himself. We could spend a whole sermon on the Lord Jesus Christ as a preacher – but for time a few texts will point us to Him the Great preacher. We can refer to the prophecy of Isaiah 61 v 1
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; 2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; 3 To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.
Isaiah is here speaking of the Messiah. The prophecy was fulfilled on the day that Jesus went to the Synagogue in Nazareth –
Luke 4 v 16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. 17 And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, 18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, 19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. 20 And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.
Wherever He went the Lord Jesus Christ preached.
Luke 4 v 42 And when it was day, he departed and went into a desert place: and the people sought him, and came unto him, and stayed him, that he should not depart from them. 43 And he said unto them, I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also: for therefore am I sent. 44 And he preached in the synagogues of Galilee.
This surely was the high note of preaching in the history of the world. The central position that the preaching of Jesus the Son of God takes is significant. All other preaching must be compared to the preaching of the greatest preacher – Jesus Christ.
What do you think of preaching my friend? I do not mean my preaching – but the preaching of God’s Word?
The Lord Jesus preached the Truth – he preached forgiveness for sinners – He preached wrath to come – he preached His love for sinners – he preached the way for man to be reconciled to God – he preached righteousness and holiness – he preached that men and women and boys and girls can know eternal happiness in heaven with Him – if they repent and believe – he preached the awful sad consequences of breaking the law and failing to seek forgiveness through His death and resurrection – eternal hell and suffering.
He preached in His life; He preached after His death; and He preaches now – to us – through His servants and his ordained preachers.
6. There is a long line of men down the ages of the past 2000 years beginning with the Apostles.
Mark 3 records the occasion when the Lord Jesus Christ ordained the 12 disciples to preach –
14 And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach,
After His death and resurrection the Lord commissioned the 11 –
Matthew 28 v 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.
These men preached faithfully for the rest of their lives. They even appointed other men to attend to the practical work of the church so that they may concentrate on the ministry of the word and of prayer. (Acts 6)
Then came the Apostle Paul – a latecomer to the apostolic band. We read about him and his ministry as he describes it in 1 Corinthians 1 v 17 – 21.
For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. 18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. 20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
James Packer says about these verses – Paul saw himself as Christ’s herald. When he describes himself as an appointed preacher of the gospel
(2 Timothy 1 v 11 Whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles.)
the noun he uses means a herald, a person who makes public announcements on another’s behalf.
When he declares “we preach Christ crucified,” 1 Corinthians 1 v 23, the verb he uses denotes the herald’s appointed activity of blazoning abroad what he has been told to make known. When Paul speaks of “my preaching” and “our preaching”, and lays it down that after the world’s wisdom had rendered the world ignorant of God, “it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe,” the noun he uses doesn’t mean the activity of announcing, but the thing announced, the proclamation itself, the message declared.
Paul, in his own estimation, was not a philosopher, not a moralist, not one of the world’s wise men, but simply Christ’s herald. His royal master had given him a message to proclaim; his whole business was to deliver that message with exact and studious faithfulness, adding nothing, altering nothing, and omitting nothing. And he was to deliver it not as another of people’s bright ideas, needing to be beautified with the cosmetics and high heels of fashionable learning in order to make people look at it, but as a word from God spoken in Christ’s name, carrying Christ’s authority and authenticated in the hearers by the convincing power of Christ’s Spirit (1 Corinthians 2 v 1 – 5).
And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. 4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: 5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
Biblical preaching is what our society needs most today! People need to hear God speaking. They may not WANT to hear Him speaking or His word – but they NEED it! And the Church’s task is to make His voice heard – it is to be heralded! My job along with other preachers is to herald the message of the Gospel to a needy community.
Your job as non preachers is to maintain this ministry through prayer, support and resources.
I have made the case for Biblical preaching – but I have not preached! So as we close I will leave you with this.
Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. He came to save sinners like you and me from hell. He died on a cross of cruel execution to stand in sinners’ places and die as a substitute for them. His death was accepted by God the judge of all people for those people who will believe this truth. He rose again from the dead and demonstrated the genuineness of His offer of forgiveness, pardon and justification.
You my friend must believe this to have hope of eternal life instead of a dread of eternal suffering in hell. But you must also obey a command issued by the creator, to repent of your sins and turn from them – for good! Repentance and faith in Jesus Christ – these are the keys to your future security. What is hard about this? Believe in Christ today – turn away from sin – and receive the new life that He offers to sincere applicants for mercy!