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The Practice Of The Church

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THE PRACTICE OF THE CHURCH

Selected Scriptures

 

Over the past few weeks we have discovered and hopefully we have begun to understand the purpose of the church (to display the wisdom of God), the power of the church (Paul prayed that we would be strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit in our inner man). 

Now we need to move on to the practice of the church.  What has the Scriptures laid out as the practices, the responsibilities of the local church? 

Just as God sets the purpose for the church and provides the power of the church.  He has also determined the practices of the church. 

Today I’m going to start a series of messages and in this series my aim is to go back to the Scriptures and learn what the Bible teaches that we as the church must be doing in order to meet the biblical qualifications for being recognized by the Lord Jesus Christ as a true body of Christ, a true church.

Is a church really a church simply because they have the word church in their name?  Is it possible for an organization to make a claim to which they have no right?  Is it possible that many groups that claim to be a church are not really churches at all?

Let’s begin to answer those questions. 

An organization may claim to be a church but in reality they don’t meet the biblical qualifications in order to be recognized in God’s eyes as a true church.  I’ll flesh out those biblical qualifications here in just a moment.  Keep this in mind, just because a group of people gets together and start a church doesn’t mean they are really a church.  Many groups of people have started what they want to call a church but because they don’t meet the biblical qualifications they are not truly a church.  Conversely, it is possible for a church to at one time to have been recognized by God as a true church but over time they begin to operate apart from the Scriptures and thus they lose the right to be called a true church.  That organization may go on and may continue to grow and they may believe that their growth is a sign of God’s blessing when in reality the growth is not God given but human manufactured.  So what is a true church according to the Scriptures?

1.  THE TRUE CHURCH

 

As you might suspect there has been much discussion about true and false churches in the history of the church.  The issue became of critical importance during the time of the Reformation.  Out of the debates of that time the marks as they were called the marks of a true church were finally decided upon.  At first there were only two marks identified but eventually a third mark was added and in reality the third mark was implied in the second mark.

The author of the Augsburg Confession stated that the marks of a true church were the “teaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments”.  In 1553 Thomas Cranmer produced the forty two articles of the Church of England.  Article Nineteen read “The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men in which the pure word of God is preached and the sacraments be duly administered, according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.” 

John Calvin wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion book four chapter one section 19, “Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to God’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists.”

The Belgic confession of 1561 added a third distinguishing mark of a true church and that third mark is the consistent practice of church discipline.  Article 29 reads “The marks by which the true Church is known is these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if she maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church.” 

Edmund Clowney has summarized these three marks of the true church as “true preaching of the Word; proper observance of the sacraments; and faithful exercise of church discipline.”

That has been the historic position of the church since the sixteenth century.  I wonder how many churches, pastors and church members are even aware that the legitimacy of a church was even debated?  If these three marks are the distinguishing factors that separates the true church from the false then was does that say about so many organizations that call them selves churches today?  If they don’t faithfully preach the Word of God then they are not a true church, if they don’t faithfully and scripturally administer the ordinances, that is baptism and the Lord’s Supper then they are not a true church.  Here is the final nail in the coffin of many and that is church discipline.  If a church will not obey the Lord in exercising church discipline then it cannot be classified as a true church.  That is why we must exercise church discipline if we are going to meet the Scriptures requirements for being a true church. 

2.  THE CHURCH DEFINED

Let’s begin by defining what the church is.  H.L. Wilmington writes, “The Greek word in the New Testament for our English word church is ekklesia.  It is derived from the verb ekkaleo.  The compound ek means out, and kaleo means to call or summon.  Thus, the literal meaning is to call out. 

When the term is used in connection with secular Greek ekklesia referred only to an assembly or meeting and never to the people, which made up that assembly.  For instance the mob that wanted to carry out a lynching in Acts 19:32 could be referred to as an ekklesia, but once this same mob broke up they would not be considered an ekklesia.  I point this out because to the Greek mind they would never see a religious connection in an ekklesia. 

But, when we come to the New Testament we find that the same word begins to take on an added dimension.  The word ekklesia becomes the technical term, the theological term for the “people of God”.  There are only five instances in the New Testament where the term ekklesia is used where it is not used in connection or in describing the people of God.  When we say the people of God we mean the church.  The ekklesia is the church. 

The church is a group of people who have been called out of or summoned out of this world to be placed into a spiritual body and that body is called together to accomplish a very specific purpose, which we have been studying the past few weeks. 

John MacArthur writes “The term church sets us apart from all other human institutions.  We are the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, purchased with His own blood.  No other institution in the world owes its existence to such a fact.” 

Let’s pause right here for a moment and ask ourselves a very important question.  If the church is a group of people who have been called out of this world, or summoned out of this world then how does one become a part of the church?  Who is it that places us in the church?  Is it something that we do?  Or is it something that God does?  The obvious answer is that God places us into this body.  Listen to what the Scriptures say.

 

“But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.” (1 Corinthians 12:18, NASB95)

 

Practically what does that mean for the church?  It means that the church body, the membership of the church is to only be made up of regenerate people.  Only those who have been born again are eligible to become part of the membership of the local church.  A church should always have more attenders than it does members.  But unfortunately that is not what we find today.  Most churches will tell you how many members they have and their membership exceeds their attendance.  Again that is a fairly recent development in the church. And I might  One of the signs that the church you attend is healthy is if it has more attenders than it has members and not the other way around. 

The New Testament supplies us with plenty of information about the church.  I’m going to begin this morning to teach several truths about the church that we find in the New Testament.  This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list; these were things that caught my attention as I was studying the verses that deal with the church this week.

I.  The New Testament teaches us whose church it is. 

Who does the church belong to?  According to the Scriptures the church belongs to God.  The book of Acts makes it very clear that it is God’s church and the price Christ paid for the church.  Acts 20:28 says

“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” (Acts 20:28, NASB95)

Three important truths come from this one verse.  The first truth is the responsibilities of the pastor or the shepherd of the local church.  The pastor is to make sure that he is on guard for himself and for his flock, for the members of his church.  The word guard there means that I as your pastor, I am to be on a state of high alert as it were.  It is my responsibility to watch over my own life but to watch over your life as well.  I am to be watching out for any danger signs that come into your life and then I am to spring into action to warn you and to protect you.  Folks where else outside of the church can you go and find that kind of love and concern for you?  If you understand this truth it means that you will better be able to take rebuke and correction from your pastor.  Please understand that in order for me to be true to the position that God has placed me in I have an obligation to be on guard and to protect you.  The sad state of affairs in the church today is that many pastors have all but neglected this aspect of their calling.  They are afraid of how people will react, they are afraid of being fired, they are afraid of people leaving the church, and their fear leads to their failure in one of their primary responsibilities as a pastor as a shepherd and that is to protect his flock and correct his flock.  This correction and rebuke is always done with the goal of preparing you to become like Christ. 

I don’t know if I’ve ever shared my life’s verses with all of you, some of you I have.  But here is my own personal scriptural mission statement.  It is found in Colossians 1.

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:28-29, ESV)

v     Truth number one is the responsibility of the pastor.

v     Truth number two is the recognition of the owner. 

According to Acts 20:28 who owns the church?  God owns the church.  The church is clearly called the church of God.  Again when we begin to stop and think this thru when begin to better grasp some of the implications of God’s ownership.  What are some of those implications? 

First of all if God is the owner of the church that means He and He alone is the authority over the church.  Or to use more scripturally accurate terminology Christ is called the head of the church. 

“And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church,” (Ephesians 1:22, NASB95)

 

“He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.”
(Colossians 1:18, NASB95)

 

No body is complete nor can it function without a head.  As the head of the church, Jesus Christ is in control of the church.  If someone ever asks you who runs Open Door Church you should always respond that Jesus Christ does.  He has revealed in His word the ways in which He exercises His authority. 

As the head of the church Jesus exercises His authority in the following four ways.

1.  He is the Savior of the church

For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.” (Ephesians 5:23, NASB95)

 

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,” (Ephesians 5:25, NASB95)

 

Apart from the Savior there is no church.  You cannot separate the church from the gospel.  That is why if a church does not preach the pure gospel of grace they cannot legitimately lay claim as being a true church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

2.  He is the Shepherd of the Church 

“Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord,”
(Hebrews 13:20, NASB95)

 

There are other shepherds mentioned in the Scriptures but there is only one who is called the Great Shepherd and that is Jesus Christ.  Jesus is called shepherd three times in the New Testament: In John 10:11 He’s the “good shepherd,” in 1 Peter 5:4 He’s the “chief Shepherd,” and in Hebrews 13:20 He’s the “great Shepherd.”

3.  He is the Sovereign over the church

 

When Jesus is called Lord in the New Testament that is a reference to His sovereignty.  What do we mean when we say that God is sovereign?  It means that God is in complete control.  When we say that Jesus is the sovereign over the church that means that He executes and holds complete authority over the church. 

“And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”(Ephesians 1:22-23, NASB95)

 

Jesus exercises His sovereignty over the churches in the following ways:

v     He rules the churches.

In the opening chapters in the book of Revelation what do we find?  We read of the Lord of the Church moving among the churches sometimes with words of encouragement, sometimes with words of rebuke, sometimes with words of warning.  What is He doing?  He is exercising His right to rule the church.  Christ’s rule of the church is to be carried out in a tangible way. His rule is carried out in the church when His word is preached.  When the pastor opens up the word of God and explains it, and teaches it, and applies it, we all have an obligation to respond with obedience to what ever Christ commands us to do.  What happens when we fail to obey what He has commanded us to do?  We as a church are to carry out church discipline on His behalf.  We must engage in church discipline because it is one of the ways that Christ authority over the church is exercised and demonstrated.  When the church disciplines an erring member we are literally acting on Christ’s behalf.  The reason so many churches fail to experience the power of Christ is because they neglect to engage in those activities that He has promised to provide us the power to accomplish.  What did Jesus say in Matthew? 

“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”(Matthew 18:20, NASB95)

Folks that is not referring to prayer meetings, the context of those verses clearly teach that it was in the discipline process that Christ promised His presence and wherever His presence is so to is His power. 

This goes hand in hand with what we learned the last couple of weeks and that is that one of the manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives is when we are obedient to the Lord’s command to witness on Christ’s behalf. 

v     He teaches His church

We have already touched on this.  Christ teaches His church through His word.  That is why one of the identifying marks of the true church is clear and faithful exposition of the Word of God.  A pastor must be faithful to his obligation to preach the Word of God.  Paul told young pastor Timothy to “Preach the Word”.  Timothy didn’t have the right and pastors today do not have the right to preach their opinion, they should never fall back on worldly wisdom as the source of the message.  The pastor is to stand in the place of Christ and faithfully teach the church to the best of his ability the same truth that Jesus would teach if Jesus were standing behind this pulpit this morning.  Folks do you realize that when I get up to preach and teach, that I am speaking on God’s behalf, and that terrifies me.  I don’t want to be guilty of mis-representing God.  I don’t want to be guilty of saying God said something when He didn’t say it.  But you need to recognize that this is a two way street.  You need to approach the message with the same seriousness and with the same attention as you would if Jesus Christ were here this morning.  I don’t think we approach it that way.  But listen to what Paul said to the church at Corinth.

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
(2 Corinthians 5:20, NASB95)

Paul says to the church at Corinth, I’m doing exactly what Christ would do if He were in front of you.  When the Pastor stands in front of the congregation he stands as the representative of Christ and he speaks for Christ.  That means that you should give the same attention to the pastor as you would to Christ. 

Remember just a few minutes ago I talked about the pastor’s responsibility to guard the flock and to guide the flock?  Remember how I said you shouldn’t get upset at the pastor when he carried out his responsibility?  Do you remember that?  Good, because I’m about to carry out my responsibility and point out some things to us as a church concerning our conduct in the church.  You have probably never thought of some of these things and that’s why I’m need to point them out to you.

BEFORE YOU GET HERE

1.  You should approach the weekly worship service with the attitude that you are preparing to meet with the King. 

I know we preachers make this comparison a lot but it still holds true.  If you were invited to the White House to have a meeting with the President don’t you think that you would approach it differently than you would if you were going to the grocery store or a ball game?  Of course you would.  Folks don’t you realize that when we gather in worship each week we are coming into the presence of the divine.  You are not coming to listen to me.  You are coming into the presence of the Lord of the Church to hear what He has to say.  You should conduct yourself accordingly.  For instance would you yawn all the way through your meeting with the President?  Would you doodle on your personal invitation?  Would you let your children crawl under the President’s desk?  Would you let you’re children get up and leave the room?  You say of course not I’d have more respect for the President than that!  I hope that you would show the President the proper respect that he deserves.  But what about God; doesn’t He deserve more respect than the President?  Of course He does.

There is a certain decorum that needs to be observed in church by parents and children alike.  Not because of the building but because of who we come to meet with. 

You need to spend the day before getting ready to enter into the corporate worship of God.  You should order your day so that you aren’t wore out the next day.  You shouldn’t come dragging in here on Sunday morning.  You should come in here ready to be an active participant in praising, and listening.  Most people aren’t active listeners.   In the church service you need to be an active listener. 

As you prepare to meet with the Lord and your church family, here are three good principles to live by.  1.  Don’t stay up late  2. Don’t get up late  3.  Don’t show up late.  You shouldn’t be showing up here right before the service or your small group is to begin, or shortly after it has begun.  Part of discipleship is discipline.  Please hear me; you will never become the disciple of Christ that you could become if you can’t discipline yourself.  God provides us with all the resources that we need but we have to have the discipline to put them to use.  Plan to arrive at least 15 minutes before the service starts that will give you some time to take care of the children, to get settled in and to begin to focus on be an active participant in the service.  The last time I checked the service and small groups start at the same time every week.  They don’t sneek up on you. 

AFTER YOU GET HERE

 

Once you arrive on time to the service there are some things you should do to properly honor the Lord. 

1.  Be an active participant in worship.  Sing whether you are any good or not.  Pay attention to the words.  Sing with the heart and with the mind.  Don’t put your mind in neutral when you come through the back door. 

2.  Teach your children the value of the word of God by teaching them to listen to the Word of God.   Listen your children are not too young to benefit from the preaching of the Word of God.  I shared the gospel with a man this week and he still remembered the catechism classes he attended as a child.  Don’t bring toys to church.  You are teaching them that church is no different than school or day care or play land at McDonalds.  Don’t bring books other than the Scriptures.  By your children a copy of the Scriptures that is appropriate for their age.  Help them find the text, yes even if they can’t read.  Don’t let you’re children do homework or work on a puzzle or draw on the response cards.  Teach them to be still, teach them to sit up, teach them to listen.  Please I’ve raised four little ones and it can be done.  You are the parent.  It is your responsibility to train them. Why is it that a child can sit in front of the tv for hours but for some reason they can’t sit through a church service.  Don’t let them leave during church, don’t you take them out during church.  Take them to the restroom before the service begins.  All these things are especially important in our setting.  You can’t breathe in here without someone else noticing.  All these things go into maintaining a proper atmosphere for the Word of God to be preached and the Word of God to be listened to.  What would happen if your child tried to get up and walk out of the classroom in the middle of the teachers’ lesson?  It wouldn’t fly and it shouldn’t fly!  The public gathering of the church family is much more important and should be treated as such.  Don’t let your child poke the person next to them, don’t let them turn around and make faces at someone else.  If you could see what I see just about every week you wouldn’t believe it. 

The pastor studies, prays and wrestles all week in preparing a message and just a couple or even a single distraction can cause people to lose the impact of what is being said.

Please I say these things for your good and God’s glory.  This place is different and what we do here is unlike anything else you do during the week and it needs to be treated as such.

4.  He is the Sanctifier of the Church

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, " (Ephesians 5:25-26NASB95)

Christ desires His bride the church to be a pure bride.  To that end He will be at work in His church cleansing His church.  How does He do that?  He does that as His word is preached and responded to.  He purifies the church as we lovingly confront one another with the Word of God and with a spirit of meekness.  He purifies the church through the process of church discipline. 

The Lord of the Church exercises His authority over the church by….

1.  Being the Savior of the Church

2.  Being the Shepherd of the Church

3.  Being the Sovereign of the Church

4.  Being the Sanctifier of the Church

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