Why I Love the Church

A series of 3 short articles by Dr. John MacArthur: (original source here).

I love the church.

I am an inveterate and incurable lover of the church. It thrills me beyond expression to serve the church. Although I am also involved in some para-church ministries, I would not trade my ministry in the church for all of them combined. The church takes first place in my ministry priorities, and all the para-church ministries I serve are subordinate to, and grow out of, my ministry in the church.

In fact, my whole life has been lived in the church. My father was a pastor, as were my grandfathers for three more generations before him. So a deep love for the church practically runs in my blood.

In a short series of upcoming posts, I’m going to outline some biblical reasons I love the church. Let’s start with the first one today:

1. The Church Is Being Built by the Lord Himself

The church is the New Testament counterpart of the Old Testament Temple. I’m not referring to a church building, but the body of all true believers.

It is a spiritual building (1 Pet. 2:5), the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:16), the place where God’s glory is most clearly manifest on earth, and the proper nucleus and focal point of spiritual life and worship for the community of the redeemed.

God Himself is the architect and builder of this temple. In Ephesians 2:19–22, Paul writes:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of the church in the eternal plan of God. The church is His building (1 Cor. 3:9). Moreover, He is the immutable, sovereign, omnipotent Lord of heaven. His Word cannot return void but always accomplishes what He says (Isa. 55:11). He is always faithful and cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13). His sovereign purposes always comes to pass, and His will is always ultimately fulfilled (Isa. 46:10). His plan is invincible and unshakable, and He will bring to pass all that He has spoken (v. 11). And he has spoken about building the church in the most triumphant words.

For example, in Matthew 16:18 Christ said, “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” He who knows His sheep by name (John 10:3)—He who wrote their names down before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8)—He personally guarantees that the gates of Hades will not prevail against the church He is building.

“The gates of Hades” was a Jewish expression for death. Hades is the place of the dead, and the gates of Hades represent the portal into that place—death itself. Hades is also the domain of the devil. Hebrews 2:14 refers to Satan as the one “who had the power of death,” and verse 15 says he used that power to keep people in fear and bondage all their lives. But now Christ has broken that power, and liberated His people from Satan’s dominion—in essence, he has broken down the gates of Hades. And therefore even the power of death—the strongest weapon Satan wields—cannot prevent the ultimate triumph of the church He is building.

There is still more significance to the imagery of “the gates of Hades.” Gates are a walled city’s most vital defensive safeguards. Christ’s words therefore portray the church militant, storming the very gates of hell, victoriously delivering people from the power of death. Thus Christ assures the triumph of the church’s evangelistic mission. He is building the church, and the work will not be thwarted.

Christ’s promise in this passage should not be misconstrued. He does not suggest that any particular church will be infallible. He does not teach that any of the bishops of the church will be error-free. He does not guarantee that this or that individual church will not apostatize. He does not promise success and prosperity to every congregation. But He does pledge that the church—that universal body of believers under Christ’s headship—will have a visible being and a testimony in this world as long as the world itself lasts. And that all the enemies of truth combined shall never secure the defeat or destruction of the church.

Notice also that the church is a work in progress. Christ is still building His church. We are still being joined together (Eph. 2:21). The church is still under construction (v. 22). God is not finished yet. The imperfections and blemishes in the visible church are still being refined by the Master Builder.

And here’s something remarkable: The plan for the finished product is a blueprint that was drawn in eternity past. Continue reading

What Is the Church?

Article by R.C. Sproul (original source here)

Paul gives great attention to ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church, in his letter to the Ephesians. In fact, we could say Ephesians answers this question: What is the church? In Ephesians 2:19–22, the chief metaphor Paul uses is that of a building—the household of God. Christians are part of the household in the sense that they have been adopted into the family of God, which is another image that Scripture uses to describe the church. But here the accent is not so much on the family of the household as it is on the house of the household: “[We] are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (vv. 19–20a).

Paul says the foundation of this building called the church is made up of the prophets and the Apostles, that is, the Old Testament prophets and New Testament Apostles. Why? It’s because the prophets and Apostles are the agents of revelation by whom God speaks to His people. They delivered the Word of God. Another way of saying this is that the foundation of the church is the Word of God.

That’s why we must pay close attention to our doctrine of Scripture. The attacks launched against the integrity, authority, sufficiency, and trustworthiness of Scripture are attacks not upon a side alcove of this building. They don’t put a dent in the roof of the church. They’re attacks on the church’s very foundation. To have a church without Apostolic authority, without the Word of God as its foundation, is to build a church on sand rather than on rock. The foundation of the prophets and the Apostles is necessary for the entire edifice of the church to stand securely.

Paul continues the building metaphor in 2:20b: “Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone.” Christ is the cornerstone, the point that holds the foundation together. Take out the cornerstone, and everything falls apart. “In [Christ] the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (vv. 21–22). The church is a new temple built in Christ, by Christ, and for Christ.

Obviously, Paul isn’t saying the church is a building made out of mortar and brick, but that we are the stones, the living stones, as 1 Peter 2:5 tells us. Each believer is part of this church just as each stone is part of a building. The church, the new temple, is still under construction. Every day, new stones are added. This new temple will not be finished until Jesus returns to consummate His kingdom. Christ is still building His church, not by adding cement but by adding people who are the stones that hold together in Him.

Paul continues in Ephesians 3:14–19,

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

The Apostle Paul explains the doctrine of the church so that we might understand what God has done and so that we may understand who we are. And in calling us to understand who we are and what we’re called to do, Paul says that we’re the church. We’re the church that God ordained from the foundation of the world. We’re His people; we’re His household, so let the church be the church.

We’re living in a time of crisis. Many Christians are decrying the decadence of American culture and complaining about the government and its value system. I understand that, but if we want to be concerned for our nation and culture, our priority must be the renewal of the church. We are the light of the world.

Government merely reflects and echoes the customs embraced by the people in a given generation. In a real sense, our government is exactly what we want it to be, or it wouldn’t be there. Change in culture doesn’t always come from the top down. It often comes from the bottom up. The change we need to work for, chiefly, is renewal within the church.

As the church becomes the fellowship of citizens of heaven who manifest what it means to be the household of Christ, and when the church walks according to the power of the Holy Spirit—then the people of God will shine as the light of the world. When people see that light, they will give glory to God (Matt. 5:16).

This will change the world. But Paul says, first of all, let the church be the church. We must remember who we are, who the foundation is, who the cornerstone is, who the head of our building is, who the Lord of the church is.

Do we love the church? I doubt if there have been many times in our history when there has been as much anger, hostility, disappointment, and disillusionment with the institutional church as there is today. It’s hard not to be critical of the church because in many ways the church has failed us. But if the church has failed, that means we have failed. We are called to serve the church in the power of God the Holy Spirit.

We, the church, have been made for this task by the indwelling presence and power of God’s Spirit. Yet, we are called not so much to rise up but to bow down. And if we bow down to our Lord, as Paul says in Ephesians 3:14, the church will be the church, and our light will pierce the darkness.

Submit to Jesus, Submit to His Bride

Article by Matt Smethurst, managing editor of The Gospel Coalition and author of 1–2 Thessalonians: A 12-Week Study (Crossway, 2017). He and his wife, Maghan, have three children and live in Louisville, Kentucky. They belong to Third Avenue Baptist Church, where Matt serves as an elder. (original source here)

Church membership can feel boring, secondary, extrabiblical, and unimportant. Aren’t there plenty of more pressing things to talk about? Not really, suggests Jonathan Leeman in Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus (Crossway, 2012). In just 132 pages, Leeman unfolds a clear and compelling case for submitting our lives to King Jesus by submitting to his earthly bride.

I corresponded with Leeman, editorial director for 9Marks and editor of its Journal, about the surprisingly pressing significance of local church membership.

Why is it significant to understand that Christians don’t really “join” churches so much as submit to them?

“Join” is a club word. You join a club, whether it’s a country club or a wholesale shopping club. You pay your dues. You receive the benefits. You come and go as you please. Nothing about your identity changes. No real demands are placed on you that you cannot extricate yourself from.

“Submit” is a kingdom and citizenship word. It recognizes the presence of an authority established by King Jesus. It speaks to a changed (new) identity. It suggests that you now belong to a new nation, a new people, a new family. And it suggests that all the new benefits you receive as a member of this nation and family also come with a set of obligations that are not so easily dispensed of.

What difference should church membership make in a Christian’s life?

Your question is sort of like asking “what difference should righteousness make in a Christian’s life?” It should make all the difference. A Christian is declared righteous in Christ, and then he or she “puts on” that righteousness in everyday decisions. By the same token, a Christian is declared a member of Christ’s body through the gospel (e.g., see Eph. 2:14), and then he or she “puts on” that membership in a geographically specific local body.

Don’t tell me you’re united to and committed to the Church—-capital C—-unless you are united to and committed to a local church: “for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).

Less abstractly, our membership in a local church is where our discipleship to Christ takes shape. It’s where we learn to love our enemies, where we learn to turn the other cheek, where we learn to forbear in love, where we learn to go the extra mile, where we learn to employ our spiritual gifts, where we learn to speak to one another in love, and so forth. Certainly, these lessons apply beyond our fellowship in a local church, but the lessons begin here. And they begin here precisely because it’s the local church that has the authority of the keys to bind and loose—-to formally affirm our profession of faith or deny it.

“Kingdom” is a very popular concept among Christians today. How does the kingdom relate to the local church?

The local church is the place on earth where the citizens of heaven can, at this moment, find official recognition and asylum. Churches represent Christ’s rule now. They affirm and protect his citizens now. They proclaim his laws now. They bow before him as King now and call all peoples to do the same. You might say that a local church is a real-life embassy set in the present that represents Christ’s future kingdom and his coming universal church. Continue reading

Should Every Christian Join a Church?

Article by Dr. Mark Dever (an excerpt from What is a Healthy Church? – original source here) Pastor Dever (Ph.D. Cambridge) serves as the Senior Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and is the author of several books including Nine Marks of a Healthy Church and The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel.

Sometimes college campus ministries will ask me to speak to their students. I’ve been known, on several occasions, to begin my remarks this way: “If you call yourself a Christian but you are not a member of the church you regularly attend, I worry that you might be going to hell.”

You could say that it gets their attention.

Now, am I just going for shock value? I don’t think so. Am I trying to scare them into church membership? Not really. Am I saying that joining a church makes someone a Christian? Certainly not! Throw any book (or speaker) out the window that says as much.

So why would I begin with this kind of warning? It’s because I want them to see something of the urgency of the need for a healthy local church in the Christian’s life and to begin sharing the passion for the church that characterizes both Christ and his followers.

Many Christians in the West today (and elsewhere?) tend to view their Christianity as a personal relationship with God and not much else. They generally know that this “personal relationship” has some implications for how they should live. But I’m concerned that many Christians don’t realize how this most important relationship with God necessitates a number of secondary personal relationships—the relationships that Christ establishes between us and his body, the Church. God doesn’t mean for these to be relationships that we pick and choose at our whim among the many Christians “out there.” He means to establish us in relationship with an actual flesh-and-blood, step-on-your-toes body of people.
Why do I worry that if you call yourself a Christian but you are not a member in good standing of the local church you attend, you might be going to hell? Think with me for a moment about what a Christian is.

What a Christian Is

A Christian is someone who, first and foremost, has been forgiven of his sin and been reconciled to God the Father through Jesus Christ. This happens when a person repents of his sins and puts his faith in the perfect life, substitutionary death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

In other words, a Christian is someone who has reached the end of himself and his own moral resources. He has recognized that he, in defiance of God’s plainly revealed law, has given his life over to worshiping and loving things other than God—things like career, family, the stuff money can buy, the opinions of other people, the honor of his family and community, the favor of the so-called gods of other religions, the spirits of this world, or even the good things a person can do. He has also recognized that these “idols” are doubly damning masters. Their appetites are never satisfied in this life. And they provoke God’s just wrath over the next life, a death and a judgment the Christian has already tasted a bit of (mercifully) in this world’s miseries. Continue reading

Entertainment and Worship

Article by Pastor Joe Thorn of Redeemer Fellowship in Saint Charles, Illinois. (original source here)

In every church and every generation of Christians, there is the potential to lose our focus on the things that are most important (Heb. 2:1). We must constantly remind ourselves and re-center our churches lest we find ourselves trusting in something other than the gospel of God and the Word of God.

One of the more dangerous drifts happening in our local churches today is within our corporate worship. In many churches there is a de-emphasis on the means of grace (Scripture, prayer, and the sacraments or ordinances), and a reliance on entertainment. Some try to balance the two in the name of reaching more people with the gospel, but there is an inescapable danger in overvaluing entertainment and implementing it in corporate worship.

This is not a new phenomenon. The nineteenth-century pastor Charles Spurgeon said, “The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them.” It may not be new, but it is increasingly popular, especially in light of our entertainment-driven culture. We see this in secular songs played by worship bands to wow the crowd. It’s hard to miss the value of amusement in the comedy-full but theology-empty preaching of many pulpits. Many of us have felt it in elaborate performances for the congregation to observe, but not to participate in. For some, Sunday morning more closely resembles a variety show than an offering made to God. The danger in bringing entertainment into gathered worship lies in the aim of entertainment and its work against the aim of worship.

I am not suggesting that church should be boring or that every church should have identical worship services, as if there is only one appropriate form in which to worship the Lord. Corporate worship from church to church varies in many ways. The styles, music, and liturgies developed in particular contexts and traditions lead to different flavors in worship. The church of Jesus Christ is made up of people, and therefore congregations, from every tribe, tongue, and nation, and this means diversity from church to church. This is often a good thing, something we can celebrate, as long as the church’s worship is ordered according to the parameters of Scripture and offered by faith.

The encroachment of entertainment into our worship is not a matter of style but of substance. Entertainment is a good thing, but its purpose is the refreshment of the mind and body, not the transformation of the mind or the edification of the spirit. The danger of entertainment in worship is not about which musical instruments are permitted or what era of hymns the church should sing. The danger is found in what the church is aiming at.

Entertainment has a different aim than worship. Entertainment is something offered to people for their amusement. Yet worship has a different focus and produces a different result.

The focus of worship is God, not man, which immediately pits it against entertainment. We offer ourselves to the Lord individually and collectively on Sunday morning. The church ascribes honor to God in the reading, preaching, singing, and praying of His Word. True worship is inherently God-centered and God-directed. What is done when the church is gathered is to be done according to God’s will and for His pleasure. This stands in opposition to entertainment, which is a spiritually powerless work directed at the people.

While worship is to be directed at God, it simultaneously offers much more than entertainment can ever deliver. As the church draws near to God, the Lord draws near to us, and we receive grace. Grace—regenerating grace, renewing grace, reviving grace—is offered to the congregation through the means of grace. The result of worshiping God in spirit and truth is transformation. Entertainment cannot lead to edification. Entertainment can stir the emotions, but God uses the means of grace to change our affections. Entertainment might draw a crowd or captivate a congregation, but only the means of grace will draw people to Christ and conform them to His image.

The beauty of worship is that it is infinitely more powerful than entertainment. Entertainment seeks to replicate drama and awe. But the grace of God in worship unveils the deepest drama in the world and produces authentic awe in the light of the revelation of God.

True worship may be painful one moment and joyful the next, as we encounter God’s law and gospel, confessing our sins and resting in the pardon we have in Jesus Christ. What is more dramatic than condemned sinners being forgiven by a holy God? Than slaves’ being set free by the Savior? What is more thrilling than the Son of God’s standing in the place of the ungodly to save them from God’s wrath? The church doesn’t need a performance of any kind to aid us in worship. We need the Word of God read and preached, prayed and sung, for in this we exalt and experience our triune God.

Entertainment has its place and serves a good, if earthly, purpose. Our local churches will do well to be careful of drifting toward it in an effort to draw or address the needs of sinful men and women. The Scripture is what God uses to penetrate the soul and change the heart. May we give ourselves to worship the Lord in spirit and truth, rather than mere emotion and amusement.

Raise Your Expectations for Sunday Morning

Dr. John Piper:

Audio Transcript

The word, under which you will now gather week in and week out, applied to you for the direction of your souls, is infinitely — I choose that word carefully — infinitely more authoritative than all presidential directives put together. The word of God in Scripture that will come and break over you week after week is infinitely wiser, deeper, sweeter, purer, stronger, more effective, more transforming, more durable, more lasting, more satisfying than all the directives and all the legislation that will come out of Washington for the next four years. Every week.

Not only that, but as you gather as the eternally loved people of God, under the word of God, in the power of the Spirit of God, you will in fact — in reality, in this room — meet God. God will come to you. There is a unique and manifest presence of the living God reserved for his family gathered in worship. I know whereof I speak, personally.

He will be enthroned, uniquely, on your praises (Psalm 22:3). He will reveal himself to you as you love him together in this room.

He will heal broken marriages as a husband and a wife singing together in the presence of God feel the impossible become possible.

He will humble the most arrogant sinner who walks through these doors. He will humble him, and he will walk out after meeting God in worship as a little child.

He will shine his light on your utter confusion as you walk in, and you will leave knowing what way to go.

He will catch you falling over the cliff of hopelessness as you walk in here, and by the end of these services you will feel ground under your feet.

He will convict you of the ugliness of a hidden habit that is quietly destroying your life. And you will walk out after meeting him under the word, by the Spirit in worship, not resolving to be free, but free.

I wonder if your expectations are that high. This is what he does when his people gather in worship.

Who Is Lord of the Church?

Article by Dr. John MacArthur – This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine. (original online source here)

The truth that Christ is Lord of His church may sound somewhat benign to a casual listener in our generation, but the struggle for Christ’s authority in the church has come to us through the ages on a sea of blood. Thankfully, literal bloodshed over the issue is no longer very common. But faithful Christians are still waging a fierce moral and intellectual battle for Christ’s lordship over the church.

One of the major early catalysts in the Protestant Reformation was a book by Jan Hus, a Bohemian Christian who preceded Martin Luther by a full century. The book was De Ecclesia (The Church), and one of Hus’ most profound points was proclaimed in the title of his fourth chapter: “Christ the Only Head of the Church.”

Hus wrote, “Neither is the pope the head nor are the cardinals the whole body of the [true] holy, universal, catholic church. For Christ alone is the head of that church.” Pointing out that most church leaders in his era actually despised the lordship of Christ, Hus said, “To such a low pitch is the clergy come that they hate those who preach often and call Jesus Christ Lord.”

Hus’ candor cost him his life. He was declared a heretic and burnt at the stake in 1415.

More than a hundred years later, already at odds with the papal establishment, Martin Luther read De Ecclesia. After finishing the book, he wrote to a friend, “I have hitherto taught and held all the opinions of Jan Hus unawares; so did John Staupitz. In short, we are all Hussites without knowing it.”

Emboldened by his reading of Hus, the reformer took up the fight for Christ’s honor as true head of His church. Luther wrote, “I am persuaded that if at this time, St. Peter, in person, should preach all the articles of Holy Scripture, and only deny the pope’s authority, power, and primacy, and say, that the pope is not the head of all Christendom, they would cause him to be hanged. Yea, if Christ himself were again on earth, and should preach, without all doubt the pope would crucify him again.”

In many ways, the question, who is Lord of the church? was the over-arching issue of the Protestant Reformation from the start. (That’s what Luther was tacitly acknowledging when he said “we are all Hussites.”)

Of course, Roman Catholic canon law still insists that the pope is her supreme earthly head and the ruling vicar of Christ in that capacity.

But the historic Protestant commitment to Christ’s lordship over the church has also subtly eroded, and that is a trend that deeply concerns me. It’s an issue I have written much about over the years.

For example, some evangelical leaders aggressively teach that it is not even necessary to confess Jesus as Lord in order to be saved. That’s what the so-called “lordship controversy” is about. It would be hard to imagine a more obvious attack against the lordship of Christ over His church, but “no-lordship theology” has thrived for years and seems to be gaining strength.

Evangelicals also gave birth to the “seeker-sensitive” movement wherein church services are tailored to please trend-savvy unbelievers. Novelties ranging from circus acts to slapstick are deliberately injected into corporate “worship” in order to keep worldly minds entertained. That is a practical denial of Christ’s lordship over His church, relegating His Word and ordinances to secondary status while granting hedonistic fashions the right to determine even the order of worship.

Feminists want to redefine the idea of headship, eliminating the idea of authority from the concept altogether. That, too, is a frontal attack on Christ’s lordship over His church.

Bible translators and paraphrasers who tamper with the true sense of God’s Word; emergent church leaders who question the clarity of everything Christ has said; and above all, preachers who seem to talk about everything but Scripture — all of them do what they do in direct defiance of Christ’s rightful authority over His church.
One thing would do more than anything else to answer every challenge to Christ’s authority: the restoration of clear, powerful, expository preaching to its rightful place at the center of all the church’s activities. If we truly believe Christ is Lord of the church, then the church needs to hear His voice. His Word must be proclaimed and its content taught accurately, systematically, and unrelentingly whenever the church comes together.

Jan Hus said the same thing. Declaring that the lordship of Christ over His church means emphatically “that the Christian ought to follow the commandments of Christ,” Hus then cited Acts 10:42 (“[Christ] commanded us to preach to the people”) and called on church leaders of his day to preach the Word of God at every opportunity — even though a papal bull was then in force, strictly limiting how and where the Scriptures could be proclaimed.

The church today is badly in need of reformation again. And Christ’s lordship over His church is still the central truth we must recover, which requires the unleashing of His Word among His people again. We cannot merely float along with the latest evangelical trends and expect things to get better. Like Jan Hus and Martin Luther, we need to fight for the honor and authority of Christ as Lord of His church.