The Marks of a True Church

Question: What are the marks of a true church? I have heard people say there are three: 1. The preaching of the gospel takes place. 2. The sacraments are rightly administered. 3. Church discipline is exercised.

I can see that all of these are biblical components. But are these all we should look for? What about prayer, love, evangelism, discipleship and practical care for people, etc?

Thanks for your question. Of course, many sects call themselves a “church.” Such has always been the case throughout Church history. Because of this, the Protestant Reformers in coming to understand the true Gospel of Christ, sought to help people distinguish between true and false churches. Since early on in Church history Christians have used the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed as summaries of the faith, to be affirmed by all Christians. If a Church has a problem affirming these basic doctrines found in these catholic creeds (the word catholic here means universal, meaning that all orthodox Christians would affirm these truths) it leads me to think that they do not embrace true and sound doctrine. If a Church cannot affirm essential truths such as the Trinity or the full deity and humanity of Christ, then it is embracing something else, and anything else is a heresy.

A heretical church by very definition cannot be a true church. It is vital that we get our doctrine right on the essentials of the faith. We only have to read Galatians chapter 1 to realize that if a church preaches another gospel, it comes under the anathema (the eternal curse) of God. That is why Martin Luther called the doctrine of sola fide (justification by faith alone) the article upon which the church stands or falls.

The Reformers were clear: The one true holy and apostolic church is present where (1) the word of God (and the Gospel) is preached and taught; (2) the sacraments of the church are rightly administered (namely baptism and the Lord’s Supper) and (3) church discipline is faithfully exercised. By implication, this third mark necessarily requires the presence of godly leadership (elders) who provide a safe place for the sheep to grow in Christ and who can ward off any wolves who seek to devour (see Acts 20). That is why Christians simply getting together for fellowship, though wonderful, without the oversight and care of elders, it does not consititute the gathering of a true Church. Christ, the Chief Shepherd has established His under shepherds for the care, protection and spiritual well being of His precious sheep (see Hebrews 13:17).

Other things are vital for church life as you rightly observed. We could add many more things to your list in fact. However these things flourish only where the three marks of the church are present.

For instance, lets talk about love. Love is absolutely vital for the health of a local church, yet we need to ask “how do we distinguish true Christian love from all imitations?” We do so by being exposed to the word of God. When God’s word is rightly preached and taught it actually cultivates true Christian love amongst the flock. It is a function of faithful shepherds of God’s church to (at certain times) bring caring, Christ like and Biblically based discipline to the church’s members, both as an act of love and as a means of cultivating genuine and authentic love among the church’s members.

I heard a good illustration some time back that I feel is worth sharing. Think of the three indispensable elements of a house: a foundation, a frame, and a roof. Many things may be installed in a house, such as couches, chairs, curtains, sinks, toilets, a bath or shower, a washer and dryer, an oven, electrical wiring, beds and so on. I am sure we agree that the list could be endless. Yet though I may have all of these things in a yard somewhere, I really don’t have a house until I have the three essentials elements of a foundation, a frame, and a roof.

There are many essential elements for healthy church life. Yet unless the Word of God is rightly preached and taught, the sacraments rightly administered, and church discipline is faithfully exercised, there is no true church present. Where these marks are absent, true holiness will be absent too. If even one of these three marks are missing it should not be considered to be a true church of Christ.

Belgic Confession:

Article 29: The Marks of the True Church

We believe that we ought to discern diligently and very carefully, by the Word of God, what is the true church– for all sects in the world today claim for themselves the name of “the church.” We are not speaking here of the company of hypocrites who are mixed among the good in the church and who nonetheless are not part of it, even though they are physically there. But we are speaking of distinguishing the body and fellowship of the true church from all sects that call themselves “the church.” Continue reading

What is a Church Covenant?

Article: Membership Matters – What is Our Church Covenant? By Matt Schmucker who was the founding executive director of 9Marks. He now organizes several conferences, including Together for the Gospel and CROSS, while serving as an elder at Anacostia River Church in Washington, D.C. (original source here)

INTRODUCTION

Professional athletic teams usually write a “moral clause” into their players’ contracts that will negate the financial package if the player fails to display at least a modicum of morally upright behavior. A few years back Jason Kidd was traded by the Phoenix Suns because he was charged with spousal abuse. Jason Kidd’s poor behavior off the court was reflecting poorly on the Phoenix Suns, and the Suns were concerned enough about the public reputation of their organization that they appealed to the moral clause in Kidd’s contract and disassociated themselves from him.

Back in the ‘80s IBM had a detailed dress code to which they required all their salesmen to adhere–dark suit, white shirt, dark tie. They wanted you to know when you were dealing with an IBM man; they wanted a certain image to be associated with their organization so that their corporate identity would have positive associations, and so that their corporate reputation would be excellent in the eye of the public.

These two examples underscore the importance of who we say we are, who we identify with, and how that public message and identification relate to how we actually live. In other words, we have to practice what we preach. And if this is true of the corporate world of computers and athletics, how much more is it true of the church corporately and of the Christian individually?

James warns us that “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight reign on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless” (Js 1:26).

In other words, if you profess to be a Christian, but you don’t live a changed life, you should take no comfort in your faith. John says “We know that we have come to know him IF we obey his commands” (1John 2:3). In short, how we live matters. In this class, we’re particularly focused on how we live together as members of a local church.

WHAT IS A ‘CHURCH COVENANT’?

A church covenant can be described in five different ways.

A church covenant is a promise – a promise made to God, to a local church, and to one’s self.

A church covenant is a summary of how we agree to live. While our statement of faith is a good summary of what we believe, our church covenant is a summary of how we agree to live – more importantly, it is a summary of how God would have us live. It does not include every explicit command regarding obedience, but it does give a general summary of what it means to live as a disciple of Christ.

A church covenant is a sign of commitment – a commitment to God, to His church, and to personal holiness.

A church covenant is an ethical statement. Historian Charles W. DeWeese writes, “A church covenant is a series of written pledges based on the Bible which church members voluntarily make to God and to one another regarding their basic moral and spiritual commitments and the practice of their faith” (Baptist Church Covenants, p. viii). One theologian calls church covenants the “ethical counterpart to confessions of faith.”

A church covenant can be an important part of applying a Christian worldview to every aspect of our lives. Inherent in the purpose of a church covenant is the understanding that church membership involves being held accountable to live in a manner consistent with a common understanding of Scripture.

A church covenant is a biblical standard. A church covenant is helpful in a church that is practicing Biblical church discipline. As members of a church, we exhort one another to live holy lives, and we challenge brothers and sisters persisting in sin.

WHERE DO COVENANTS COME FROM?

Now that we know what church covenants are, where do they come from? Well, not from the Bible–not, at least, in the sense of being able to turn to the Book of Covenants chapter 3. But we do see examples of covenants both in the Old and the New Testament–covenants between God and man, and between man and man. Moses gives a covenant from God to the people of Israel. Ezra and Nehemiah do so as well. And in the NT we find that “Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, which is the new covenant in Christ’s blood”. Primarily, church covenants come from the understanding that churches are to be composed of people who are truly born again. This is what we call regenerate church membership.

In the 16th century, men and women of deep conviction broke away from the Roman Catholic Church to form congregations who understood the importance of the doctrine known as justification by faith alone in Christ alone. No longer did baptism or membership bring supposed new life. Joining and being part of a church was no longer a civic duty or just part of growing up. It was becoming what it was always intended to be – a response of faith to the truth of the gospel. And in this response of faith we gain the most amazing callings: children of the living God, ambassadors of Christ, a royal priesthood; we become the bearers of God’s name in the world. Listen to God’s word on this issue. “I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the sovereign Lord, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes” (Ezek 36:23). We are called to be living witnesses of God’s holiness!

Continue reading

I Don’t Need Anyone to Teach Me! Really?

“Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” – Proverbs 18:1

In some sectors of the internet, one can discover professing Christians who live their lives in isolation from the local Church.

Now, we all understand it when someone is providentially hindered from attending a local Church, and that is a very different scenario. I am not speaking of such people. I am referring to those who’s absence from the local Church is willful. Not only so, but they actively encourage others to do the same. I believe this to be extremely dangerous. More than that.. I believe the teaching is demonic in origin. Who else but the enemy of our souls would be the source of a teaching that seeks to remove God’s precious sheep from the nurture, care and protection of God-given elder/shepherds.

One verse championed by these people, taking out of context (as with all falsehood), is 1 John 2:27 which reads as follows:

“But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.”

Note the phrase, “you have no need that anyone should teach you.”

There you go… for these people, this verse clearly teaches that the Christian does not need to have leaders and teachers in their lives. They are more than ok to isolate themselves from the local Church.

But is this what 1 John 2:27 is teaching?

The context of the verse says ‘No… not at all!!’

Here are some notes from Dr. Sam Storms at his website (found here). You will see, once the context is understood, the true meaning of 1 John 2:27 is abundantly clear:

The Doctrinal Test (1) – 2:18-27

1. Antichrists and Christians – 2:18-21
a. the existence of many false teachers is evidence that this is the last hour – 2:18

John emphatically states that we may know this is (the) last hour because of the existence and activity of many antichrists.

Antichrist – occurs only in the Johannine epistles (2:18(2),22; 4:3; 2 John 7). This word is never used to describe the Beast of Rev. 13. The term is a combination of anti (against or instead of) and christos (Messiah, Christ). The Antichrist thus opposes Christ as his adversary or enemy with a view to taking his place. He is a lying pretender who portrays himself as Christ; he is a counterfeit or diabolical parody of Christ himself. See 2 Thess. 2:3-12.

Westcott writes: “It seems to be most consonant to the context to hold that antichristos here describes one who, assuming the guise of Christ, opposes Christ” (70). Again, “the Antichrist assails Christ by proposing to do or to preserve what He did while he denies Him” (70).

Although they had heard that this person’s appearance is yet future, “even now” (kai nun) says John, many antichrists have already come.

Paul wrote in 2 Thess. 2:7 that “the mystery of lawlessness was already at work.” In 1 John 4:3 he points out that the spirit of antichrist is now at work in the world. What John means in 2:18 is that the “many antichrists” are forerunners of the one they heard was still to come. Because they proclaim the same heresies he will proclaim and oppose Christ now as he will then, they are rightly called antichrists (esp. in view of their denial of Christ in vv. 22-23).

In 2:22, he writes: ‘Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. The spirit of the antichrist, says John, is found in anyone who denies that Jesus is God come in the flesh (1 John 4:3).

Again, in 2 John 7, he writes: ‘For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Thus, for John, ‘antichrist is

* Anyone ‘who denies that Jesus is the Christ (1 John 2:22)
* Anyone ‘who denies the Father and the Son (1 John 2:23)
* ‘Every spirit that does not confess Jesus (1 John 4:3)
* ‘Those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh (2 John 7)

Some have argued that John’s point is that there is no other antichrist than the one even then operative in his day or the one who takes up and perpetuates this heresy in subsequent history. In other words, anyone in general can be ‘antichrist, if he or she espouses this heresy, but no one in particular, whether in the first or the twentieth centuries, is the antichrist as if there were only one to whom the others look forward.

In other words, the ‘antichrist’ who his readers were told was yet to come is now with them in the form of anyone who espouses the heretical denial of the incarnation of the Son of God. According to DeMar, for example, it is possible that the early church ‘heard’ that one man was to come on the scene who was to be the Antichrist. John seems to be correcting this mistaken notion (Last Days Madness, 227).

Says B. B. Warfield: Continue reading

About the Church

Article: Dr. Sam Storms – 10 Things You should Know About the Church (original source here).

It’s both amazing and deeply distressing that I continue to hear of people who are supposedly “in love with Jesus” but not with the church. “We like you, Jesus, but we don’t care for your wife!” Really? The so-called “organized” church is for some reason offensive to them. Does the NT support such a notion? Is it possible for someone to be a Christian and remain opposed to his Bride, the church? I hope these ten truths about the church will forever put that misguided idea to rest.

(1) The church is the primary means by which or through which God makes known the glory of his saving wisdom. We read this in Ephesians 3:10 – “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10).

God’s ultimate aim is that his own “manifold wisdom” might be made known “through the church”. The word translated “manifold” could be rendered “richly diversified,” “multifaceted,” “highly variegated,” or “infinite diversity.” God’s saving wisdom is gloriously intricate in its design and its effect. It is the very antithesis of boredom and routine.

The “rulers and authorities in heavenly places” are angelic beings, primarily demonic spirits (see Eph. 1:21; 6:12; Col. 1:16; 2:10). In this way these fallen spirits are provided with a tangible reminder that their authority has been decisively broken and that they, indeed all things, have been made subject to Christ. Note: the purpose for the church extends far beyond its internal ministries. God intends for the church to serve a larger, indeed cosmic, purpose in spreading his glory.

God intends to accomplish “through the church,” not nature, nor other angels, not the animal kingdom, but through the church! It is through the very existence of this new multi-racial, trans-cultural community of believers in which Jew and Gentile are co-heirs of the promises that God makes known his wisdom. No other organization on earth, neither government nor educational institutions nor civic clubs can accomplish this purpose. What, then, becomes of the display of God’s wisdom when the church remains internally divided and externally segregated?

(2) The Greek word ekklesia, translated “church,” is occasionally used in a non-technical sense to refer to an assembly or congregation of people (see Acts 7:38; 19:32, 39, 41; also Hebrews 2:12 which is a citation from Psalm 22:22).

Some have tried to argue that since ekklesia is built on two words that mean “out of” and “to call” that the church should be defined as those who are “called out of” the world to be God’s people. But it is a mistake to build a definition of a word based on its component root parts. Meaning is based on usage, and the predominant usage of ekklesia is assembly, gathered ones, congregation.

A close study of the word in the NT reveals that there are two fundamental senses in which we may speak of the “church”: the universal or invisible “church” and the local or visible “church”. Most often in Paul’s writings the word ekklesia refers to actual concrete gatherings of Christians in a local setting (1 Cor. 4:17; Rom. 16:5; Philemon 2; Gal. 1:2).

We refer to this as the “visible” church because it is comprised of actual people who can be seen, known, and counted. The “local” or “visible” church may also be designated in two ways, either as a group of local churches in a particular geographical region (Gal. 1:22 [“the churches of Judea”]; possibly also Acts 8:3 and 1 Timothy 3:15) or as individual churches in a particular city (see above).

(3) But on occasion, ekklesia appears to refer to an entity that is much broader than any one local congregation (Gal. 1:13; 1 Cor. 10:32; 15:9; Phil. 3:6; Col. 1:18, 24).

Other similar uses of ekklesia, in which the word appears to have in view the universal Church, the “body” of all believers, indeed all Christians collectively in every geographical location together with those who have died and are now present with Christ in heaven, can be found in Ephesians 1:22; 3:10, 21; 5:23, 24, 25, 27, 29, 32. We read this in Hebrews 12:22-23, a description of those now in heaven:

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly [lit., ekklesia, church] of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect . . .” (Heb. 12:22-23).

(4) There are several ways in which the word “church” is never found in the NT. (a) You never find in the NT the word “church” used to refer to a building or physical structure. Whereas a particular local “church” may meet in someone’s house (e.g., Rom. 16:5), or today in a building, the structure itself is never called a church. (b) You never find in the NT the word “church” used to refer to a denomination. (c) You never find in the NT the word “church” used to refer to an organization of believers related to a specific country or nation, such as the Church of England (Anglican) or the Church of Scotland.

(5) We must remember that the NT never entertains the idea of someone being a member of the universal or invisible Church who is not also an active member and participant in a local church. Ideally, the two should be co-extensive, but reality is such that there are many who are “members” or who are present within a local church who are not “members” of the universal body of Christ (see 1 John 2:19).

(6) Some say the “church” or the “assembly/congregation” of God’s people began with Adam, while others say it began with Abraham. But I have in mind what we know to be the “body of Christ” (see 1 Cor. 12:12-13), that spiritual organism that is comprised of both believing Jews and believing Gentiles who share equally in the promises of God and have all been baptized by Jesus in the Holy Spirit. Several texts suggest that this “church” began or was birthed at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out permanently on all believers. See Matthew 16:18 (the “church” that Jesus would build is yet future); 18:15-20; Ephesians 2:11-22; 3:4-6. The “church” thus began with the experience we know as Spirit baptism (inaugurated at Pentecost), a work of Jesus Christ that incorporates believers into his spiritual body (1 Cor. 12:12-13; 12:27).

(7) Here is a good working definition of the church. A local church is a group of baptized believers in Jesus Christ who meet regularly in corporate assembly to worship God, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Certain practices are essential to this gathered body: they are under the authority and guidance of duly appointed Leaders; they are regularly taught the Word of God; they celebrate the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; and they consistently practice Church Discipline.

There are certainly other features and ministries that ought to characterize every local church, such as evangelism, mutual accountability and encouragement, missional outreach, the exercise of spiritual gifts, etc. But the absence of these latter factors only means that a local church is weak or is falling short of its responsibilities.

(8) This means, for example, that Inter-Varsity chapters, CRU, Navigator groups, BSF, Young Life, and Youth for Christ clubs are not local churches. They may well be expressions of the life of the local church or efforts by Christians to achieve specific goals that the local church is unable to pursue, but they are not themselves local churches.

(9) Small group gatherings, likewise, are not in and of themselves local churches. They are the local church in smaller, more manageable embodiments, designed to facilitate community life, accountability, spiritual growth, exercise of spiritual gifts, mutual encouragement, prayer, discipleship, etc. But for a small group to be, in itself, a local church, it must have duly appointed leaders (Elders) who provide for the regular teaching of God’s Word, the celebration of the ordinances, and the exercise of church discipline where called for.

(10) There are numerous ways in which the NT describes the local church, numerous and diverse images or metaphors, the most important of which are: the church as the Body of Christ (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 10:17; 12:12, 27; Eph. 4:12; 5:23, 30; Col. 1:24); the church as the Bride of Christ (2 Cor. 11:12; Eph. 5:31-32; Rev. 19:7-8; 21:9); the church is the family of God (Matt. 12:49-50; 2 Cor. 6:18; Eph. 2:19; Gal. 6:10; 1 Tim. 5:1); the church is God’s house (Heb. 3:6; 1 Tim. 3:14-15; 1 Pet. 4:17); and the church is the Temple of God (1 Cor. 3:11, 16-17; 6:19; Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:5-7).

The Role of a Shepherd

Article by Dr. R. C. Sproul: What Does It Mean to Be a Shepherd Over the Flock? (original source here)

When we examine life in the early Christian church, we see a remarkable phenomenon recorded for us in the book of Acts. In Acts 8:1 we read, “At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.”

A little bit later in the text we read these words: “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). We notice here that the people described as going everywhere preaching the Word were not the apostles. They were the laity of the first-century church. The apostles remained in Jerusalem and were not numbered among those who fled during the great persecution.

It is obvious from this text in Acts that one of the functions of the leaders of the early church was to equip the laity so that the ministry of the gospel could be effected through their labors. This was a precursor of what Luther had in mind in the sixteenth century when he advocated the doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers.” In that doctrine, Luther did not intend to obscure the distinction between laity and clergy but simply intended to point out that all Christians are to be involved in fulfilling the mission of the church.

At the same time, the New Testament makes it clear that there are those appointed to be leaders in the local church, and they are called by various names, but in the main we think of the pastor as the leader of the local church. The supreme paradigm, or model, for pastoral ministry is seen in the work of Jesus Himself.

One of the titles that the New Testament bestows upon Him is that of the Good Shepherd. The metaphor of the shepherd who cares for his flock becomes then the metaphor that defines the work of the local pastor. But what does it mean to be a shepherd over the flock?

In the first place, to be a shepherd over the flock of sheep means that it is the shepherd’s responsibility to lead the sheep. If anyone has observed the behavior of sheep who are left unguided, without the care and constant supervision of a shepherd, he is aware that sheep tend to move willy-nilly in all directions without any order to their movement. They are prone to getting lost, getting injured, and being left in a state of vulnerability unless they are cared for by a shepherd. So it is with the flock of Christ. It is the chief responsibility of the pastor, who is the shepherd, to lead the sheep.

One of the great tragedies in the church of the twenty-first century, particularly in Protestantism, is that while pastors are given the responsibility for leading their congregations, rarely do they receive a level of authority that matches that responsibility. For the most part, they are considered hirelings by the governing boards of the local church, whether it be a board of elders, deacons, or a consistory. So that the pastor, in being subordinate to the elder board, always has to keep one eye on his supervisors before he takes the reigns to lead the flock of Christ. This is one of the reasons why so many pastors have compromised the preaching of the gospel. They have been so fearful that they would lose their jobs by being bold in their preaching and passionate in their concern for the sheep that they keep one eye on the sheep and the other eye on those who hire and fire them. This is not the biblical model.

From Old Testament times beginning with Moses into the New Testament, those who were called to be elders and deacons were to be placed in a position to give aid and assistance to the shepherd, who was given the authority and responsibility to lead the flock. Some pastors are very effective in leading without that authority simply by the sheer force of their personality or the skills they have in leading.

Secondly, the shepherd is responsible to feed the sheep. This was set forth with great emphasis in Jesus’ discourse with Peter after the resurrection, when He inquired of Peter’s love for his Master. Jesus three times gave the mandate to Peter to feed His sheep — to tend the flock. Sheep without food soon grow thin, weak, emaciated, and sickly — ultimately perishing.

It is the first responsibility of the pastor to make sure that the sheep under his care are fed, nourished, and nurtured by the whole counsel of the Word of God. The New Testament rebukes the believer who is satisfied with milk and flees from serious learning of the things of God by avoiding the difficult digestion of the meat of the Word of God. But a good shepherd weans his sheep from the elemental principles of milk that is given to babes, and he gives them a diet that will cause them to become strong and fully equipped to do the ministry of the gospel. That feeding is given at the responsibility of the pastor.

Thirdly, the pastor is called to tend the flock. Following again John’s imagery from nature, when a sheep is wounded or becomes ill, it is to be noticed by the good shepherd, who takes that sheep from the flock and gives the special attention needed by the sheep to be restored to fullness of health. So it is that the good pastor is one who knows the aches, the pains, the joys, and the sorrows of each member of his congregation, so that he can tend to their needs and so that they aren’t overcome by physical maladies or by spiritual and psychological distress. He is there to encourage the sheep and to see to it that they grow to the fullness of maturity in the life of Christ, conforming to Christ’s very image.

It is the responsibility of the pastor to equip the sheep by teaching them and training them. There is a difference between teaching and training.

Teaching involves the imparting of information from one person to another.

Training requires more hands-on participation, showing someone how to master a particular skill.

It is not enough for a pastor simply to communicate information through expositional preaching or to explain the doctrines of the faith to his flock. He is also called to see to it that they are trained in certain skills necessary for growth in the faith. It is the pastor’s responsibility to teach his sheep how to pray, how to worship, how to evangelize, how to be engaged profitably in the mercy ministries of the church.

In all of these enterprises, the pastor is to mirror and reflect the ministry of Jesus Himself, who gave of Himself completely to those given to Him by the Father. So the pastor must see his congregation as a flock of sheep that is entrusted to him by the Father and by the Lord Jesus Christ, that he may help the saints become all that they can become in the ministry of the gospel.

The Pastor’s Purpose

Article “What’s the Purpose of … Pastors?” by Tim Challies (original source here)

The Bible knows nothing of lone Christians, of believers who are willfully independent from a local church. Rather, Christians gather in communities to worship together and serve one another. And as God commands his people to gather in community, he also commands them to be led—led by men called and qualified as pastors or elders (terms the Bible uses interchangeably). As we progress through a series of questions about things we as Christians often take for granted, we now come to the question of church leadership and ask, “What’s the purpose of pastors?”

Common Views of Pastors
In the church today we find a number of common views of the role and purpose of pastors. Unfortunately, some of these, though perhaps well-intentioned, are unbiblical. Here are two prominent views that both fall short of what the Bible teaches.

The first is the pastor as CEO. According to this view, the pastor’s primary purpose is to keep his organization (i.e., his church) running smoothly and growing steadily. Like the Chief Executive Officer within a corporation, he must apply sound business principles to his operation and will find success when he satisfies the desires of church attendees and experiences numerical growth. Those who hold this view claim that the “pastor as shepherd” view threatens to stunt the growth of a church and is impractical for the challenges of our day. Though shepherding care is good and necessary, it should be carried out by church members or ministry leaders so the pastors can focus on the challenges of leadership. Carey Nieuwhof explains, “Saying the model of pastor-as-CEO is bad for the church is like saying leadership really doesn’t matter. It’s also saying business should get all the best leaders. … If all we do is recruit pastors who love to care for people until they die, the church will die.” The task of the pastor, he says, is to lead, “to take people where they wouldn’t otherwise go.”

The second view is the pastor as priest. According to this view, the pastor is a kind of spiritual guru whose purpose is to take sole or primary responsibility for all of the church’s ministry. In that way, he serves as a kind of mediator between God and his people.

While few evangelicals would actually vocalize their adherence to this view, many tacitly hold it when they only go to their pastor for prayer and spiritual care. They may feel that the prayer and ministry of church members are somehow less effective than the prayer and ministry of their pastor. This view may also affect evangelism, as believers downplay their own ability to share the gospel and instead only focus on bringing unbelieving friends to church to hear the pastor, as if this is the only means through which God works.

Addressing the Error
While it is true that the wise pastor will learn practical strategies for leadership, and while it is true that all truth is God’s truth, the pastor as CEO view has dangerous implications for pastoral ministry. In Jeramie Rinne’s powerful critique, he insists that this view eventually and inevitably reinterprets the church through a business or organizational lens. It is true, of course, that churches “have business aspects. Churches often use financial officers and budgets, employees and personnel policies, facilities and insurance, workflow diagrams and goals, bylaws and committees.” All of these are within the scope of a healthy church. But “the problem arises when these businesslike elements become part of a comprehensive business model for the congregation that ignores biblical teaching. It might look something like this: pastor = president/CEO; staff = vice presidents; members = shareholders/loyal customers; visitors = potential customers.”

John Piper has also warned of the danger of this view, saying, “The professionalization of the ministry is a constant threat to the offense of the gospel. It is a threat to the profoundly spiritual nature of our work. I have seen it often: the love of professionalism kills a man’s belief that he is sent by God to save people from hell and to make them Christ-exalting, spiritual aliens in the world.” This view teaches Christians to interpret and evaluate churches like businesses. It teaches them to evaluate pastors like they evaluate CEOs, so their performance becomes more important than their character. They fail to consider that of all the biblical qualifications for pastors, there is just one related to skill. All the others are related to his godly character.

Meanwhile, the pastor as priest model neglects a key doctrine recovered by the Protestant Reformers: the priesthood of all believers. While Luther and the other Reformers affirmed the office of the elder or pastor, they also emphasized that, through Christ, we are all ministers of the gospel and all have access to God. God continues to call men to pastoral ministry, but he also calls every Christian to minister to one another. This view minimizes the New Testament’s emphasis on the role of the pastor as the one who equips believers so they can carry out the work of the ministry. Ephesians 4:11-12 expresses this: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” The truth is, we are all ministers. Some are set apart to lead as pastors, but we are all called to minister.

What the Bible Says about Pastors
The Bible assures us that pastors exist to shepherd God’s people in local churches until Christ returns (1 Peter 5:1-5). The calling of the pastor is inextricably tied to the biblical metaphor of a shepherd tending to his flock of sheep. Alexander Strauch says, “If we want to understand Christian elders and their work, we must understand the biblical imagery of shepherding. As keepers of sheep, New Testament elders are to protect, feed, lead, and care for the flock’s many practical needs.”

Pastors shepherd God’s people by protecting them. One of a pastor’s foremost responsibilities is to protect his sheep, for just like sheep need the protection of a shepherd, God’s people need the protection of pastors. Paul’s farewell address makes it clear that this includes protection from false teachers: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). It also includes protection from their own sinfulness, which is why a pastor is called to a ministry of exhortation—of calling people away from behavior that is dishonoring to God and toward behavior that is pleasing to him (Titus 2:15). It is why pastors eventually confront ongoing, unrepentant sin and enforce church discipline (Matthew 18:15-20).

Pastors shepherd God’s people by feeding them. A shepherd not only protects his sheep from danger, but he also cares for them by feeding them. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” says David. “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters” (Psalm 23:1-2). The shepherd provides for the sustenance of his sheep. Similarly, pastors must feed God’s people with the spiritual food and drink they need—the Word of God. The pastor’s ministry is a Word-based ministry in which he uses the Word for preaching, teaching, and counseling. “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).

Pastors shepherd God’s people by leading them. Sheep are wandering creatures who are prone to meander out of safety and into all kinds of danger. They need a shepherd who will lead and guide them. In much the same way, Christians need pastors who will provide leadership. This is a specific form of leadership, though, that better equips them to fulfill the ministry to which God has called them. They carry out this leadership by setting an example in godly character, knowing that the pastor’s standard for character is really the standard for every Christian. “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you … being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3).

Pastors shepherd God’s people by caring for them. Sheep that are ill or in distress rely upon their shepherd to tend to them. And when God’s people are distressed or uncertain, they rely on their pastors to bring comfort, instil wisdom, and offer prayer. “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14). The pastor has a special function in caring for the people in his charge.

Conclusion
God’s church needs pastors. It needs pastors who will function not first as priests or CEOs, but as shepherds—shepherds who will protect God’s people; feed them spiritual food; lead them by modeling godly character; and care for them in life’s temptations, trials, and triumphs.

Ultimately, pastors exist to “care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).

Meaningful Membership

Article: Why Churches Should Have Meaningful Membership by Erik Raymond – original source here:

Church membership is a concept that while not explicitly articulated in the Scriptures is assumed and supported. Many of the New Testament letters were written to local congregations with instructions as to how they were to deal with their life together (for example, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Philippians). Even though church membership is common in churches today and throughout history, I’ve found it helpful to broaden out the answer to help fill out my reasons for why we have church membership.

Is church membership biblical? Is it important? Yes, I believe so. Here are four main reasons why.

First, there are theological reasons. In other words, there are certain truths about who God is and what he has done that require membership language and the practice of membership.

When God caused you to be born-again, he established a new relationship with you. Formerly, you and I were separated from God in our rebellion, but God, being rich in mercy (Eph. 2:4), has made us alive and brought us into his family by “adopting us to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:5). By grace, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1.13). Those who were formerly far off “have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). To say that we are part of the kingdom of Christ, the body of Christ, the people of God, or God’s family is another way of saying we have become members of the church. This is why 1 Corinthians 12:13 tells us that “in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”

Membership in God’s universal or collective church happens when God the Holy Spirit unites us spiritually to the body of Christ throughout history. However, membership in the local church happens when we unite together with other believers in a physical location. This is what I am emphasizing here. Church membership in a local church presupposes and necessitates membership in the universal church through conversion. Church membership reflects the theological truth of the gospel.

Second, there are covenantal reasons. A covenant is an agreement or a relationship with obligations. Most commonly we think of the marriage covenant. There is an agreement between a husband and a wife that has obligations pledged or vowed to one another. The relationship is undergirded by an oath. When we become a Christians, we become a part of the New Covenant. The New Covenant is the legal oath that God has made with his people. In a nutshell, God promises to be our God, forgive our sin, give us his Spirit, write his law upon our hearts, and dwell with us forever. Our response, upon entering into this covenant, is that we will follow him and be faithful to him. In other words, to use the language of Jeremiah, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer. 31:34)

This probably seems straight-forward. You become a Christian, and things change. You have a relationship with God that brings a responsibility to follow him. But we often forget that this covenantal relationship with God also brings us into a relationship with others, where we also have responsibilities. In other words, God has not only called us into a covenantal relationship with himself but also with others. This is why we must have church membership. When we join a church, we agree, or pledge, or promise together to take responsibility for one another. We agree to a set of doctrinal specifics. We agree to work together to advance the gospel. Membership expresses our covenantal relationship.

Third, there are evangelistic reasons. By this, I mean that meaningful membership in a church actually communicates something of the value and shape of the gospel. What do I mean? Membership is a congregation’s declaration to one another and to a watching world what a true confession and confessor of the gospel looks like. One of the primary responsibilities of the gathered congregation is to evaluate the profession of faith in its prospective members and then to regularly evaluate it in the lives of their current members (Mt. 18:15ff; 1 Cor. 5:1-13; 2 Cor. 2:6-11). In other words, the congregation, the members, declare to a watching world, This is a right confession of the gospel. And, by virtue of their ongoing membership, We stand with this brother or sister in how they are representing Jesus in the world.

Meaningful membership attends our gospel witness. Membership communicates the people and the message of the gospel to a watching world.

Fourth, there are practical reasons. To do the things that we need to do as a church, there must be some way to discern who we are talking about. I mentioned your responsibility as a Christian; does that extend in the same way to every single Christian living on the planet? No, of course not. You and I can’t possibly fulfill the covenantal obligations with brothers in sisters living in Beijing, Baghdad, Toronto, and Omaha. Our church can’t even fulfill the requirements to every Christian in Omaha. Similarly, pastors are called to keep watch over the flock, knowing they will give an account (Heb. 13.17). Whose flock? What flock? How do we know who we are going to give an account for? Peter says to shepherd the flock of God that is among you (1 Pet. 5).

This is also seen in the concept of church discipline. “When Jesus instructed his followers to seek out the brother who has sinned (Matt 18: 15- 21), he was presupposing such an integrated conception of body membership. Actions of reproach and, ultimately, exclusion are to occur within the arena of a specific and identifiable group of people” (Dever, The Church).

In our church, we do this with a physical list and a membership directory. This helps us as members with a resource to pray through and be reminded who we are responsible for.

Some may bristle at the concept of formal membership, but, in addition to the obvious practical benefits, there seems to be a historical and biblical practice.

“[P]hysical lists of members may well have existed in the earliest Christian churches. Clearly, the keeping of lists was not unknown in churches. The early church kept lists of widows (1 Tim. 5: 9). God himself keeps a list of all who belong to the universal church in his book of life (Rev. 20: 12). Paul assumed that the Corinthians had identified a “majority” of a particular set of church members who were eligible to vote. (Dever, The Church)

Meaningful membership helps us to see who we have this day-to-day New Covenant relationship with and who we are immediately responsible for. Knowing who we accountable to and to helps to clarify what and how we are doing. Membership helps us to see who we are accountable to and responsible for.

Church membership must be a priority for Christians because God has not only called us into a covenantal relationship with himself, but also with others. Is church membership biblical? Is it important? Yes, I believe so.

Membership & Eldership

Where’s Church Membership in the New Testament?

John Samson (9/10/17) teaching the Sunday School hour at Eastford Baptist Church in Eastford, CT:

Appoint Elders in Every Town

John Samson (9/10/17): The importance of biblical eldership, and what having a plurality of elders means for the overall health of a church.

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.