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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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The Gospel Advances on the Shoulders of the Meek

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We tend to think the church advances its agenda the same way the world advances its agenda. We see big crowds being drawn to the concerts and the theaters so we say “Let’s make our church more like that!” We think some celebrity or fame will aid our cause. If only we had more famous people in our churches we’d be more legitimate in eyes of the world.

Is it really true that churches need to keep up with the world to be relevant? Are the marks of kingdom progress a bigger production, a-list names, more money in the budget? Does the church advances on the shoulders of the strong, the powerful, and the popular?

If it does, then Jesus dangling from a splintery cross on a forsaken hill outside Jerusalem is a failure. Paul alone in a prison cell abandoned by most of his friends is a train wreck, and the martyrs throughout church history are a crying shame.

But this is not how the church advances. The gospel ministry moves forward on the shoulders of the meek, because the meek are the ones empowered by God for the work.

By blessing the meek, Jesus turns everything upside down. Christ’s kingdom doesn’t advance with armies, the church isn’t advanced through crusades. Rather, Jesus compared the kingdom to a mustard seed. Small, seemingly insignificant and irrelevant. It seems unimportant until the final unveiling at the end of human history, where the countless myriads of saints are gathered to worship the Lamb.

We must never strive to be cool or relevant in the eyes of the world. We will be faithful and meek, entrusting ourselves to God, awaiting the future reveal when the redeemed are innumerable as the sands on the seashore and the stars in the sky. When the new world comes, it will be filled with only one category of person: meek.

Let’s embrace meekness to move this ministry forward. It’s clear that God’s not done with us, and it’s clear that God wants to use you.

How should you tell people about your hope in evangelism? 1 Peter 3:15but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness [meekness] and respect.” Lead people to Christ in meekness.

How should you disciple those who come to Christ? Like Paul, who entreated the Corinthians with “meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:1), or like James, who encourages us to walk in the “meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13).

How do we help brothers or sisters who are straying? Galatians 6:1Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness [meekness].”

How do we correct opponents? 2 Timothy 2:24-25The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.”

In meekness we evangelize. In meekness we walk with other Christians to help them follow Jesus. In meekness we restore the sinner. In meekness we correct opponents.

It’s never by force, manipulation, or coercion. You can’t strongarm people into the kingdom or into obedience. To be meek is to see the immense dignity of the people around you and to treat them with honor.

The kingdom doesn’t advance on a bulldozer, but on the gentle breeze of meek, gentle love.

*  *  * This is an except from a previous sermon, "Blessed are the Meek." To listen to the entire thing, click here. *  *  *

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