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The Church Christ Builds, Pt. 2

 
Imagine a wedding ceremony.

A man and a woman stand before a crowd of witnesses declaring their love and making vows. Once two individuals, they are now something different and new before God and man in  the covenant of marriage. They’ve committed to love one another in a unique, special way.

Now imagine that same couple 70 years later, still in love and caring for one another. Though not easy, their marriage  was good and fulfilling, always flavored with joy When asked for marriage advice they respond, “Throughout the years, no matter how busy we have been, we always make time to be with each other, to remember our vows, and  to express our love for one another in tangible ways.”

The marriage ceremony was where the commitments were made, but the regular special times together were where the commitments were expressed.

With that in mind, consider  baptism and communion. Much like the wedding day, baptism is the welcome ceremony into the church. The moment one is baptized, new commitments are formed as the individual says, “I am not with the world any longer, I commit myself to the church of Jesus Christ!” The church says in response, “Yes! You are part of our family, and we take responsibility to care for your soul!” Baptism is powerful because  it confers and communicates new commitments for everyone involved. Before you were baptized, you were just an individual Christian. Afterwards, you are a church member.

Communion, then, is like the regular expression of that commitment. Communion is when the church gathers as one before the table, remembers the grace of God in Christ, and renews their vows to one another. In communion, we look around and remember who we have committed ourselves to in baptism. In baptism, the one becomes part of the many. In communion, the many are made one.

True commitment is so rare these days. Marriages break down frequently. Often people show more commitment to their sports team than to the Church of Jesus Christ. Just as a marriage falls apart when commitments and vows are forgotten, so a church gets sick when the commitments entailed in the ordinances are forgotten.

Isn’t it inspiring to see a couple celebrate their 70th anniversary? In the same way, shouldn’t God’s people see their church less like a product to consume and more like a family to love and serve? Jesus calls every Christian to make commitments to their church through the ordinances. As we move forward together as a family, let’s remind ourselves of the glad responsibility we have to “love one another earnestly” (1 Peter 1:22).  And let’s pray and work for decades and decades of beautiful faithfulness to our worthy Lord.

Yours for chirst,
Eric
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The Church Christ Builds, Pt. 1


As we seek to obey the Great Commission to work for the health, growth, and multiplication of healthy churches, it’s imperative we know what we’re building. Starting to obey the Great Commission without knowing what a church is is like buying material to build a house you’ve never seen any blueprints for. We must know: what are we doing here? What is a church?

We cannot assume, like many have done in the past, that the church is just like any other human institution built by human ingenuity. The New Testament never presents the church advancing because of crafty business tactics or clever marketing ploys. The church is something altogether different from any human system, structure, or corporation. Jesus said it’s his church and he will build it (Matt. 16:18). That means he gets to define it.

So what’s a church, according to the New Testament? For the sake of brevity, consider this definition:

A church is a group of believers who regularly gather to care for each other’s souls through the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the ordinances.

Regular gathering. Today, with the proliferation of video preachers, live-streamed services, podcasts, and other avenues for “virtual church,” we need to revisit the Scripture’s teaching on gathering. The clearest (though not the only) statement regarding gathering can be found in Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together…” A church gathers. Church members gather together.

Of believers. The Greek word for church is ekklesia, which means “called out ones.” In some contexts it refers to all believers in all places from all times (Universal Church). In most places in the New Testament it refers to a local gathering of redeemed individuals (Local Church). In any context, it’s referring to believers.

To care for each other’s souls. Consider all the “one anothers” of the New Testament. Churches gather to help and care for one another. This is an essential aspect of the corporate gathering. When you’re a member of the church you’re taking responsibility for the souls of your fellow brothers and sisters. If the members of a church abdicate this responsibility, the church will eventually cease to exist. This includes positive church discipline (teaching, training, etc), and corrective church discipline (appeal, rebuke, and excommunication if necessary) (Matt. 18:15-18).

Through the preaching of the gospel. One way God has ordained the church to be nurtured is through the regular preaching of the gospel (2 Tim. 4:1-2). God calls and equips gifted men to teach his Word to his people so that they can be transformed by the renewal of their minds (Rom. 12:1-2). A gathering that does not preach the gospel is not a church.

And the administration of the ordinances. There is no church without baptism and communion. Jesus calls his disciples to be publicly identified with him. This happens initially through baptism (Matt. 28:18) and repeatedly through communion (1 Cor. 10:17). We could put it this way: baptism is the front door into the church, communion is the family meal. In baptism, the one becomes part of the many. In communion, the many are made one.

Yours for the Gospel, 
Eric
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The Church Christ Builds: Introduction

 
Here’s a simple question for you to ponder: what is a church?

Is it a building? A gathering? Just any gathering? Is it for Christians? Is it for the community? Can anyone be a part of it? If I watch a church service online, does that count as going to church? Do you have to have property to be a church? Do you have to have elders? What if there’s no sermon? What if there’s no music? And aren’t the ordinances-- baptism and communion--important? Don’t they have something to do with a church being a church?

At the very end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” We call this the Great Commission, because it’s the charter for the church. It’s our mission.

Then we come to the book of Acts. Acts is the story of the apostles’ obedience to this commission and when we look closely at what they’re doing, we see something fascinating: they’re planting churches. The Jerusalem church is planted and established (Acts 2:37-47).  A church forms in Antioch (Acts 11:19-26) and the Jerusalem church sends Barnabas to help it get established. The Antioch church sends out Paul and Barnabas, and on their missionary journey they plant churches and appoint elders (Acts 14:22-23). Churches are the fruit of Paul’s ministry-- they appear in Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, Ephesus, and even Rome. It appears that central to the Great Commission is the growth of healthy churches. The movement of the gospel is church-centric.

Here’s the snag in modern American evangelicalism: few people can define what a church actually is.

Like the apostles of old, we must reconnect the Great Commission with church work. To do that, we must come to a clear understanding of what the Bible teaches about the church. Starting this week our blog will be devoted to  defining what a biblical church is as well as what a biblical church does. Please, read along as we take a journey into the oft neglected land of ecclesiology. It should be fun.

Yours for Christ,
Eric

 

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