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.

The Costly Battle of Christ’s Headship

The truth of God has come to us on a sea of blood, both by the blood of Christ in redemption, and by the blood of the martyrs in Christian history, as they stood (at great cost) for the biblical truth of Christ’s Sovereign headship over His Church.

Text: Ephesians 5:23

The Christian & The Church

Dr. John MacArthur

Your Responsibility to the Church, Part 1:

Your Responsibility to the Church, Part 2:

Your Responsibility to the Church, Part 3:

Your Responsibility to the Church, Part 4:

Your Responsibility to the Church, Part 5:

Christ, the Head of the Church

God’s Strategy for Church Growth

The Bible and “Youth Ministry”

Voddie Baucham on Youth and Age Segregated Ministry:

Time Stamp – For Questions:
0:01:13 Institutional Sacred Cows
0:02:14 Follow the Money
0:05:15 History of the Sunday School Movement
0:06:43 Expansion of the Youth Ministry
0:07:37 What about kids whose parents don’t teach them?
0:11:19 If you get rid of youth ministry, how do you justify similar ministries?
0:12:59 You claim to be an abolitionist, what do you mean?
0:15:00 We’ve created a Church within a Church
0:17:14 Are high numbers of kids really leaving the church?
0:18:53 On foxes guarding the hen house
0:20:33 How do we reach the lost if we get rid of youth ministry?
0:22:02 Why can’t we have youth ministry and parental involvement
0:24:12 Don’t kids who leave the church eventually come back?
0:25:12 Give and example from the Bible for how you train your youth.
0:28:08 Didn’t Jesus get trained in the Temple when he was twelve?
0:30:10 Why is it wrong to gather youth together to worship and pray and be taught?
0:31:37 What is the real issue?
0:32:54 Does the church have freedom to innovate?
0:35:59 What is your message to fathers?
0:36:59 What is your message to pastors??

The Church and the Reformation

Article: Ecclesiastical Eclipse: Evangelicalism and the Reformation by Bruce Baugus (original source RI. This is a good thing; however, my expectations are limited because the broadly evangelical discussion of the Reformation often reduces its legacy to a set of disembodied ideas about salvation (e.g. sola gratia and sola fide) and theological method (e.g. sola Scriptura). While the cultural and political implications of these ideas are much discussed (and sometimes exaggerated), the centrality of the church and the character of the Reformation as a fundamentally ecclesial affair are often neglected or under appreciated.

In fact, Evangelicalism, as a loosely confederated movement of extra-ecclesial institutions such as parachurch ministries, schools, publishing houses, websites, speakers, bands, and conferences, has a rather awkward relationship with this aspect of the Reformation’s legacy.

Churchly Character of the Reformation’s Legacy

From the beginning and throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the object of reform was not so much the doctrine debated in universities but the institutional church–its worship, ministry, discipline, and government. While the Reformation was certainly marked by profound doctrinal development within prolegomena and the loci of soteriology and ecclesiology, the central ideas of the Reformation were neither as unprecedented nor distinct as they are sometimes portrayed.

This, at least, was the argument advanced by the next several generations of Protestants who argued their interpretations and teachings of the gospel were not only true to Scripture but also in line with the best strands of the catholic tradition. Unprecedented, new, distinct, or other adjectives that suggested genuine novelty of thought were close to condemnations at that time; being a reformer was a delicate and often dangerous vocation.

Conversely, even the most defining and unifying Protestant claim, that sinners are justified by grace alone through faith alone, found several defenders among Roman Catholic loyalists at the Council of Trent. Giulio Contarini and company (Ranke, History of the Popes, counts seven in all; I.138), at least resisted the push to anathematize this view. They obviously lost the argument, but the fact they made the case at Trent in 1546-47, while pope and emperor were waging war against Protestants, is telling.

I am not suggesting, of course, that doctrine was inconsequential to the Reformation (or that the gospel is just some set of ideas); on the contrary, the Reformation was driven by evangelical convictions preached in pulpits and taught and debated in classrooms and writings. What I am suggesting is that the distinguishing characteristic of the Reformation as a historical development is not found in the ideas alone but in the transformation of the church across swaths of Europe as the institutional embodiment of those evangelical convictions. Without that there would have been no Reformation and no heritage for us to commemorate and debate five hundred years later. Continue reading

3 Reasons Why Every Christian Needs the Church

Article by Nicholas Davis (original source you are not the only disciple in this world. There are others whom Jesus has also called, but once we do, it is no longer “I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 3:20). Christ has a visible body, and he calls it his “church.”

Christians were never meant to live apart from other Christians—we were made to be part of the same community. Here are several reasons why every Christian needs the local church.

1. Every Christian needs spiritual care.
It’s common for people to attend a church regularly without officially belonging to that particular church. What this sort of church attendance fails to understand is that all sheep need a shepherd. Jesus is, of course, our ultimate Shepherd, but he leads his sheep through under-shepherds who are specially called to care for his people. The biblical warrant for the spiritual care of every Christian comes from the following passage:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Pet. 5:1–5; emphasis mine)

It’s clear from passages like this that God desires every Christian to be under the spiritual care and authority of flesh and blood elders (see also Heb. 13:7). Elders are those whom God has called to shepherd his people, and they are to give an account of their spiritual care to Jesus—the true Shepherd—on the last day.

Additionally, Paul charged Timothy and Titus to “entrust” the apostolic teaching to “elders in every town” where there is a church (Acts 14:23; 2 Tim. 2:2; Titus 1:5). He expected each church to have people who were called and appointed to serve in every place that people gathered.

Who really wants to live life unprotected and alone, anyway? Unfortunately, this is what Christians are functionally doing when they forgo the ordinary care they would normally receive from a local church.

2. Every Christian needs accountability.
When I was in college, I had accountability partners with whom I could share my deepest struggles. As great as that fellowship was with other Christians, it only went so far. It wasn’t until the end of college that I experienced the benefits of belonging to not only an accountability buddy but also to a group of real men to whom I could look up and learn from in both doctrine and life experience.
Additionally, when I had an accountability partner, I could only be held accountable to what I shared. Furthermore, if I did share something really “bad,” my friend could only tell me that it was wrong. He didn’t have any more authority than that. If we are members of a church, however, then the leaders of that local church will have the ability to hold me accountable to my profession of faith. If I am denying the gospel outwardly, I’m rebuked and corrected. This is necessary for Christians, so that we don’t become hard-hearted or leave the faith altogether.

In Matthew 18, Jesus describes the practice of church discipline. This may sound like a scary term, but it outlines the process a believer should take when another believer sins against him. If the sin cannot be resolved between the two Christians, then the last step is to “tell it to the church” (v. 17). The only way Christians can faithfully obey Jesus in this life is if they are part of a broader body than their own Christian group: they need to actually belong to a Christian church.

3. Every Christian needs others.
When Jesus Christ died on the cross, he tore down the walls of hostility that existed between Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:13–16). The body of Christ has many members—it is multigenerational and multiethnic. It has always been this way. In Hebrews 11, Paul describes how Rahab, the non-Israelite prostitute, was engrafted into the people of God by faith. It is also always going to be this way in the new heavens and new earth:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands. (Rev. 7:9)

As sinful human beings, we tend to hang around people who are most like us. But God calls us to something much greater and grander than this when he knits us together as one body in the church. In this new community that God creates by his Word, we are forced to be around people whom we may not always like—but we are still called to love.

We are surrounded by older and younger Christians, people who are barely making it from paycheck to paycheck, those who are independently wealthy, and those who are racially or culturally very different from us. The gospel brings all of these differences together, and it shows forth the beauty of the entire creation that God is redeeming. God created variety, and he is redeeming variety.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:14–15, Paul wrote to encourage a mature church with these words: “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” We really do need one another, and we are always better off when we’re together.

Church Member! Fight to Attend Your Church Weekly!

church_16a_smallArticle by Geoffrey R. Kirkland (original source indeed! We live in such a swirlingly busy age with countless distractions and endless entertainments and overly-busy schedules. How easily and how quickly it can be that the gathering together with the people of God in your local assembly can be missed one week because of a scheduling conflict. And then it becomes easier the next week. And the next. And so on. So the title is intentional and the motive of this essay is pastorally & compassionately exhortational: FIGHT and make it a priority to attend your local church on a weekly basis.

I understand things come up. Illness happens. Vacations occur. There are providential workings of God that may cause a child of God to miss church. But please hear this: missing church should not be the norm; it should be the exception. It is your local church where Christ promises to walk amidst His people and bless them by speaking to them and ministering to them in very real and special ways.

Additionally, this essay is for the true Christian. This is not just another paper urging the unsaved to just ‘get to church’. This essay is for those whom God has saved and who have obediently committed themselves to a local church and submitted themselves to the leadership of that church. This is an essay for the saved to reorient the focus on the Lord and on His church because this in our culture can distract and disrupt and cloud our minds at times.

My argument? Fight with all your might to attend your church weekly. I’ll provide 7 simple reminders.

1. For the sake of your HEART.
Dear Christian, bought with the precious blood of Christ, as a newborn baby long for the pure milk of the Word so that you may grow in respect to salvation (1 Peter 2:1-2). O child of God, have you tasted the kindness of the Lord? Have you partaken of the sweetnesses of His love for you? Do you hunger for Him and thirst for righteousness? Attend church for the sake of your heart so that you can grow as you receive the food of the Word. No matter what you tell yourself and how you seek to justify it, it’s impossible for you to grow spiritually if you continually find yourself absent from the body of Christ. For the sake of your heart, attend your church to be fed God’s Word through the preaching and to hear Christ address you and the Spirit to mold your heart through the truths heralded.

2. For the sake of your CONGREGATION.
Dear Christian, Christ never called you to a life of lone-ranger isolationism. Christianity is never my Christianity. It’s always a community, joint, shared journey. And that journey is with other predestined travelers who are progressing and traveling to glory just as you are. Don’t neglect them! No matter what you tell yourself, private times in the Word (as important as that is!), and family worship (as important as that is!), and listening to sermons online (as helpful as that can be!) is not a substitute for actually going to the gathering with your fellow believers to worship the crucified & risen & interceding Christ together. Your fellow believers who have covenanted together love you. When you’re not there, they wonder where you are (at least, they *should*). They care for you and wonder if everything’s OK. We minister together as a body. A body has many members. When one member is absent, there’s something incomplete about the body. So make it a point, a deliberate point, to attend worship with your congregation.

3. For the sake of your LEADERSHIP.
You, dear Christian, submitted yourself obediently to Christ and willfully from your heart to membership in your local church (if you haven’t done so yet, you should). They are called by God to give watchcare over your soul. As a father cares for his children, so a leader loves and gives oversight to Christ’s people. As a husband leads his wife and protects her, so undershepherds are to care for Christ’s Bride by giving biblical leadership to her. As a shepherd leads and guides the sheep, so your pastor-elders must give biblical guidance and counsel to the sleep bought with the blood of Christ. Your leadership cares for you. They watch over you. They are to minister to you. One of the *primary* ways your pastors care for you is by praying regularly for you and preaching God’s Word faithfully to you. If you miss church, you’re neglecting one of God’s chiefest ways for your pastors to care for your soul — through the feeding of God’s Word. If a child didn’t come to meals, wouldn’t a loving parent wonder what’s going on and whether the child is sick? So you, dear Christian, receive the feeding and nurturing and loving and guidance from Christ as His appointed undershepherds tenderly love your soul by praying, studying, and preaching. You should attend & receive.

4. For the sake of your TEMPTABILITY.
Dear Christian, still growing in godliness, fight sin and temptation with zeal. Have you forgotten you have a cunning enemy who would love to distract you and put obstacles (enticing and entertaining ones!) so that you don’t attend church? Don’t isolate yourself! If you miss one or two or three weeks, how easy it is (and Satan loves to underscore this in your mind) to miss just *another* week. After all, no one has called and (you may think) no one notices or cares. But how temptable we are — even as children of God. We are not to abandon the gathering with the saints and we’re not to let worldly endeavors take precedence over, or priority over, the Word of God. To help guard you from temptation and to help keep you alert to your sinfulness, sin’s attractiveness, Christ’s beauty, and heaven’s nearness, fight to attend corporate worship as a safeguard and as a blessing to fortify your soul in grace & in the gospel weekly. Continue reading

Quotes on the Church

quotes“Wherever we find the Word of God surely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to the institution of Christ, there, it is not to be doubted, is a church of God.” – John Calvin

“I well remember how I joined the church after my conversion. I forced myself into it by telling the pastor, who was lax and slow, after I had called four or five times and could not see him, that I had done my duty, and if he did not see me and interview me for church membership, I would call a church meeting myself and tell them I believed in Christ and ask them if they would have me.” – Charles Spurgeon

“The church, as defined by the Word of God, is a group of Christians who dedicate themselves to meeting together for the regular preaching of the Word of God; who submit themselves to biblical eldership; who regularly celebrate the ordinances of the church (baptism and the Lord’s Supper); and who practice and submit themselves to church discipline as laid out in Scripture.” – Wayne Mack

“Scripture speaks very clearly to the fact that identification with God’s people in a formal, public way was considered essential. A careful study of the New Testament reveals not even a hint of any believer who was truly saved, but not part of a local church.” – Wayne Mack

“To unite with the Church is to take one’s place among the followers of the Master. It is a public act. It is a confession of Christ before men. It is not a profession of superior saintliness. On the other hand, it is a distinct avowal of personal sinfulness and unworthiness. Those who seek admission into the church come as sinners, needing and accepting the mercy of God and depending upon the atonement of Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. They come confessing Christ. They have heard his call, “Follow me,” and have responded. Uniting with the Church is taking a place among the friends of Christ; it is coming out from the world to be on Christ’s side. There are but two parties among men. ‘He who is not with me is against me,’ said Jesus. The Church consists of those who are with Christ. This suggests one of the reasons why those who love Christ should take their place in the Church. By so doing they declare to all the world where they stand—and cast all the influence of their life and example on Christ’s side.” – J.R. Miller

“The man who attempts Christianity without the church shoots himself in the foot, shoots his children in the leg, and shoots his grandchildren in the heart.” Kevin DeYoung

7 Reasons Worshipers Need The Church

Article: by Jesse Johnson (original source but they don’t love the church. They don’t see why a worshiper needs the church at all. After all, can’t we just worship as individuals? Here is my response:

While it is true that everything a redeemed person does should be done with both an attitude of worship and with the goal of glorifying God, there remains a special and specific role for the gatherings of the local church.

For example, Paul tells Felix that while he used to worship by “going to Jerusalem,” now he worships “according to the Way, which some call a sect” (Acts 24:11, 17). In other words, Paul’s worship was in his heart, but in tune with the worship of other Christians.

This is exactly what was described earlier in Acts, when the church first started. Thousands were saved, and immediately became worshipers of the true God. That worship was evident in the fact that they “were continually devoting themselves” to meeting together (Acts 2:42). Acts 2:46 describes how this wonder and worship continued as they left the Lord’s Day gathering, but was fostered by their repeated meeting together (“in the temple” and “house to house”). Verse 47 describes how these meetings were marked by them “praising God.”

So how is a Christians’ worship fostered specifically in the gathered church? Clearly the Lord’s Day gatherings of the congregation are the focal point of corporate worship. The structure of the Pastoral Epistles highlights this. Worship is seen in the corporate gatherings because there, under the authority and leadership of the elders, the church takes on a life of prayer (1 Tim 2:8), work (v. 10), and instruction (v. 11). This is where the preaching of the word happens (1 Tim 5:17, 6:2; 2 Tim 4:2)). In that context, the elders lead the corporate gatherings which gives rise to the Lord’s Day worship service.

Scripture gives seven basic components of this corporate worship gathering (fellowship, the ordinances, Scripture reading, giving, prayer, singing, and most notably preaching). But it is assumed that all of these happen under the leadership of the elders, and together make up the corporate worship of the church.

Fellowship as corporate worship
The early church had their corporate worship service marked by fellowship (Acts 2:42). This fellowship grew out of the preaching of the “teaching of the word,” and was seen in the acts of the ordinances and prayer. When a congregation strives for holiness, their weekly gatherings for worship are marked by this “fellowship of light” (2 Cor 6:14). In fact, this corporate fellowship is an act of worship because it flows out of the union each individual Christian has with members of the trinity (Phil 2:1; 1 John 1:3 also ties this Trinitarian fellowship to the preaching of the word: “We proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”)

This fellowship is seen when likeminded believers, united in the pursuit of holiness, join together to celebrate what God is doing in their lives (1 John 1:6-7). It is in this context that the commands to mutually edifying speech become practical in how they create an atmosphere of worship (Rom 12:16, Col 3:9, Jas 4:11, 5:9). Continue reading