Ecclesiology, Part 2

people are the church

Jesus Christ built His church on Himself.  He founded and He established it.  He gifted it with the Holy Spirit and gave His life for it.  The greatest gift ever given the church was Jesus Christ.

1.  Membership in the Church

In spite of what various denominations teach about this topic, the New Testament tells us how to become a member of the church:  faith in the Gospel and a deep-seated trust in Jesus Christ as Savior.

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”  (Acts 16:31  TNIV)

A characteristic – not a condition – of church membership is participation in water baptism, a dramatic and symbolic testimony to faith in Christ.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. [10] For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.  (Romans 10:9, 10  TNIV)

In the earliest days of the church, all members were truly born again:

…And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.  (Acts 2:47  TNIV)

In those early days, becoming a member of the church was not like joining a club or an organization, but it was understood that becoming a member of the church was quite literally becoming part of the Body of Christ.

Over the years, though, catechizing took the place of conversion; water baptism took the place a born again experience.  As the Christian church became more and more popular, adherence to man-made confessions and doctrines took the place of faith in the Word of God.  The result of such a change is marked.  Instead of the church overflowing with true Christians, it’s now a “mixed multitude,” with true believers co-existing alongside nominal and in-name-only Christians.  This has been the state of the church for most of its existence:  possessing Christians in the midst of professing Christians.  According to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 13, the state of the church is no surprise to Him.

It’s clear that the distinguishing characteristic between the invisible, universal Church and the visible, denominational church is the quality of its members.  Only true born again, regenerated people are members of the invisible, universal church.  Those who have their names written in the Book of Life in Heaven are members of the true church.  Those whose names are found only on a church roll, may be members of their local church, but that’s no guarantee that they are also members of the true Church.  This strange condition of the Church was taught by Jesus (Matthew 13) and understood by Paul:

Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”  In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for disposal of refuse.  Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.  (2 Timothy 2:19-21  TNIV)

2.  The work of the church

The work of the church is best stated by Paul in Ephesians:

(A)  Teaching and training its members.

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…  (Ephesians 4:11, 12  KJV)

Some people are under the mistaken impression the job of the church is to make converts.  In fact, the primary job of the church is to train up its members to go out and make converts.  There is nothing wrong with the occasional evangelistic service, but generally speaking, there should be a lot teaching and training going on in Christian churches.  This is what Jesus did:  He taught, discipled, and trained His followers to go out and make converts.  It was not His intention that His followers should to go out and drag back sinners to Him for conversion!

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…  (Matthew 28:19  TNIV)

(B)  Provide a means/place of worship.

The church ought to be a place a prayer, worship, and testimony.

(C)  A place of Christian fellowship.

People are social beings and they need social interaction and friendship with like-minded individuals.  A good church provides opportunities for its members to get together for camaraderie and good fellowship.  It is during those times believers encourage each other and build each other up in the faith.

(D)  To hold up a moral standard in the community.

As the “light of the world” and the “salt of the earth,” the church should be setting the moral and ethical example for others to follow.   The church should teach people how to live, not just how to die.  The best witness a church member can have is to hold forth a Biblical worldview, and it’s up to the local church to instill in its members that sound worldview and to encourage them to live it.

3.  Ordinances of the church

Christianity is not a religion of ritual.  At its core, Christianity is all about the inside of a man, not the outside; it’s about man being able to approach God on the merits of Christ alone.  In spite of the fact that New Testament Christianity is not built around rituals, there are two ceremonies that are essential because they were divinely ordained:  water baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Because of their “sacred” character, some people like to refer to these ordinances are “sacraments,” meaning “sacred things.”  Ordinances, sacraments, or rituals, whatever you call them, there are very special ceremonies “ordained” by The Lord Jesus Himself.

A very simple way of looking at these two ordinances is to see water baptism as the “rite of entrance” into the Church, and it symbolizes the beginning of spiritual life.  The Lord’s Supper is the “rite of communion,” symbolizing continued spiritual life.  Water baptism portrays faith in Jesus Christ, the Lord’s Supper fellowship with Him.  Water baptism happens one time, the Lord’s supper often.

(A)  Baptism

With apologies to the practices of some denominations, since the word “baptize” means “to dip” or “to immerse,” the preferred mode of water baptism is immersion.

This leads us to the question of “sprinkling” or “pouring.”  Where did these practices come from?  All must admit that baptism in both Testaments (Jewish baptism in the Old, Christian in the New) involved totally immersing the candidate in water.  When the early church became more institutionalized and began to forsake the plain teachings of Christ and allowed man’s ideas to influence it, it also began to place an undue emphasis on rituals – like the pagan religions around it did –  and baptism began to be seen as essential in salvation.  In other words, if a person died without being baptized, the church (though not the Bible) taught his soul was in peril.  Given this, the church began the practice of baptizing the sick and dying before it was too late.  Naturally these candidates couldn’t be immersed in water, therefore sprinkling or pouring had to be done.  Eventually, it just became convenient to sprinkle and pour.

Is any of this really important?  Is the mode really important?  It is only to the extent of the candidate’s witness to the community, both the community of faith and the broader community.  Only total immersion conveys  in a dramatic fashion the believer’s identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  (Romans 6:1-4 NIV84)

How do we reconcile these two verses:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…  (Matthew 28:19 NIV84)

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  (Acts 2:38 NIV84)

What words should be used when one is baptized?   Most denominations use the “Trinitarian formula,” of Matthew 28:19.  But some churches, often called “Jesus Only” churches, baptize their candidates in the name of Jesus only.  Which is correct?  It should be noticed that the words Jesus spoke were the formula; He told His disciples precisely how to baptized converts.  Peter’s words in Acts do not constitute a formula.  They were spoken merely as a statement affirming that the candidate has placed their faith in Jesus alone.

As to who may be baptized, the Bible makes it clear that only those who have repented of their sins and put their full faith and trust in The Lord Jesus Christ may be baptized.  The early church had three simple practices surrounding water baptism:

(1)    a simple profession of faith, Acts 8:37
(2)    a simple prayer, Acts 22:16;
(3)    a simple vow of consecration, 1 Peter 3:21.

Water baptism in and of itself is not a means of grace; individuals are baptized in water not be be saved but because they are saved.

(B)  The Lord’s Supper

Also known as Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper is a wholly Christian rite, instituted by The Lord Jesus Christ on the eve of His crucifixion for the following purposes:

(1)    Commemoration.

Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”  We commemorate many things:  birthdays, anniversaries, Independence Day, and so on.  Whenever a group of Christians gets together the celebrate The Lord’s Supper, they are remembering in a very special way the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus, which freed them from their sins and secured them salvation.

While the life of Jesus was important, it saved no one.  It was His death that saved sinners and that’s why we remember it so.

(2)  Instruction.

When we celebrate Communion, we have an opportunity to learn anew two important parts the Gospel.  First, the Incarnation.  We remember the words of John:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:14 NIV84)

And the words of Jesus Himself:

For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.  (John 6:33 NIV84)

We also have an opportunity to think about the Atonement.  We think about the sacrifice of Jesus; His broken Body and His shed Blood; how He bore the punishment for our sin.

(3)  Inspiration.

The elements help us understand that by faith we may become partakers of Christ’s nature; that we are in communion with Him; and that we as we get closer and closer to Him, we become more and more like Him, reflecting His glory and character.

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.  (2 Peter 1:4 NIV84)

(4)  Assurance.

The “new covenant” spoken of by Jesus during the Last Supper is a “blood covenant.”  The covenant has been accepted by God on the basis of His Son’s shed blood.  His blood is the guarantee that God will be gracious and merciful to all who come to Him in faith believing what Christ has done.  That is our part in the covenant:  simply believe.

God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished–  he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.  (Romans 3:25-26 NIV84)

(5)  Responsibility.

Celebrating The Lord’s Supper is a solemn thing, not to be done lightly, and only after sober reflection.  Consider the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:

A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.   (1 Corinthians 11:28-29 NIV84)

This of course does not mean that only those who are good enough or worthy enough should take Communion.  Really, none of us is worthy.  If we read all of 1 Corinthians 11, we see that Paul is not so much concerned with people but with the actions of people.  How we treat people and the attitudes we hold toward others determines whether or not we may take part in the Communion service.

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