Thursday, October 28, 2010

Unity in the Church

Very closely connected with the idea of Christ being the head of the body is the important truth that we are all members of one body. Indeed these are the first two principles that are emphasized in the book of Acts. The connection between these truths should be clear. The unity of the body follows directly from the headship of Christ. If we are each looking to Christ and following Him, we will necessarily function together in unity. If we are allowing Christ’s thoughts to be our thoughts, then we will be of one mind. If we have love for the One who begets, then we will not fail to love those who are begotten. If we picture the church as a building, then I would describe these two principles as two large stones cemented together to form the foundation.
In order to drive this point home, I would like to review some of the reasons why this idea is so important to the Lord Himself. First we will look at the words spoken by the Lord in prayer just before His crucifixion. “I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me. And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given to them; that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and didst love them, even as Thou didst love Me” (John 17:20-23). This is something that was on our Savior’s heart just before His death. Pause for a moment and consider these words. Two things stand out to me. One is that Christ desires our unity because He wants us to be united to Him. The second thing is that our unity (or lack thereof presumably) has a definite impact of the word around us.
Another reason why I believe this is so important to God is because it was the first thing that God did in forming His church. Using the language of Acts 1-2, to baptize them into the Holy Spirit, or more literally to immerse them in the Holy Spirit. Part of what happened on that day was that the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4), but before that the Spirit is described as a rushing wind which filled the whole room where they were sitting, (Acts 2:2) and so they were quite literally immersed in the Spirit. What was the point of that? Paul sheds some light on this later when writing to the Corinthians when he says, “For by one Spirit we were all immersed (baptized) into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13). That was a defining moment in the church. Someone has said that on that day called Pentecost about 120 disciples entered that building, but only one came out. They became one body in that room. The Lord’s orchestration and timing is perfect. God knew that before His disciples entered into the field of service which He had for them, they not only needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit, but they needed to be immersed in the Holy Spirit; they needed to be unified in one body.
Now we must consider what unity really means. In describing the early church, the Bible uses such phrases as, one mind, one heart, one soul. Certainly there is a lot more to it than the mere lack of strife or quarreling. Unity cannot be achieved simply by ignoring our differences or reducing our doctrine to the lowest common denominator. That is not what is described in the New Testament. I hope that we will have many discussions to further clarify what unity is, and how to preserve it and restore it when necessary. For now, however, I will leave you with these two thoughts: 1.) In Ephesians 4:4 we are exhorted to be “diligent to preserve (guard, keep) the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” It is of great importance to the Lord, and it should be to us as well. 2.) Remember that this foundational stone is inexorably connected to the truth that Christ is head of the church. Unity cannot exist if we are not fully submitting ourselves to His headship.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Leadership in the church

Christ is the true Head of the church, but mankind has historically had trouble recognizing Him as such. We would much prefer someone physically on the earth, someone we can see and touch. Perhaps it is because we are more in tune with the physical realm than we are with the spiritual. Whatever the case, it has been going on for a long time. When God established the nation of Israel, He was to reign over them as a king, but it didn’t take them very long before they said, “We want a king just like all the nations.” God said that in so doing they were rejecting His reign over them (read 1 Samuel 8). That desire still exists in the hearts of men and women. We would rather follow a man who we can see and touch and hear. This presents a danger for the church. If we are not careful our hearts will be drawn away from Christ as our Head to some lesser head. In addition to that danger there is the danger that many men (and sometimes women) are all too comfortable with having that preeminence. John had to write one of his letters to a man named Gaius rather than to the church because of Diotrephes “who loved to have the preeminence among them,” and thus he would not receive John. We must be on our guard against this danger; otherwise it will erode away our very first foundational principle (and a very important one); Christ is the head of the church.
I would like to emphasize that this problem is a problem of the heart, and the remedy must take place in our hearts. It is a question of maintaining a spiritual focus in a physical world. Having said that I believe that God in His wisdom laid out several practical safeguards in His pattern for the church. One of these has to do with a plurality of leadership. Men who are in a position of leadership in the church are called in the New Testament either elders or overseers (King James uses Bishops). Every time this word is used in connection with a local church it is in the plural (Phil 1:1; Acts 20:17; Titus 1:5; Heb 13:17; 1 Pet 5:1). It is also significant to mention that even Peter and John who were apostles and might have exercised more authority, simply referred to themselves as elders (1 Pet 5:1; 2 John 1). When we consider the tendency that we have of focusing on earthly leaders we can quickly discern the wisdom in God’s pattern for the church. When one man is always in view and in a position of leadership it is much easier to allow that man to gradually take the position of head, but when there are several this tendency is kept in check. It is also important for leaders to have accountability among themselves. This can easily be neglected when there is only one.
The question might still be asked, “There may be some danger, but isn’t there a lot of benefit to the church from having a pastor or full-time-worker?” Let us carefully analyze this question. First let us be clear what we are asking. If we are asking about the people who serve in these positions, then we will quite readily say, yes! There are many wonderful, godly men who have served and are serving as pastors and resident full-time-workers. If we are asking about the practice of having one-man leadership or ministry, then I would say, no. The reasoning goes like this. I trust we believe and agree that Christ is the perfect head of the church, and that His plan for the church is perfect. If there is something needful or even beneficial for the church we may reasonably expect to find it in the Bible. In this case I find no Biblical examples of one man ministry (whether we call that man a pastor or full-time-worker or whatever). I encourage you to do your own research. Prayerfully consider what the implications are of Christ’s position as Head of the church, and what the Bible actually has to say about leadership (let me know what you find).
Next time we will consider an important corollary to Christ’s headship; namely, the unity of the body.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Head of the Church

The very first verse of the book of Acts gives us a very important concept for the church. It is foundational to the proper understanding of what the church is and how it is to operate. In that verse Luke refers back to that first book that he wrote; he refers to it as the account of that which Jesus began to do and teach. The implication is that this second volume contains the account of what Jesus continues to do and teach. Luke then proceeds to give a purposeful and detailed account of how our Lord forms and builds His church. This is perhaps the simplest, and yet the most important building block on which to build our thinking about the church; namely, it is His church. Of all the problems that the church has today they could probably be traced back to a failure to recognize in some way or another the proper position of Christ as head of the church.
I believe it would be expedient for us at this point to line up our hearts to this principle, to submit every thought we have concerning the church to His headship. We ought to be thoroughly convinced that Christ’s plan for the church is perfect in every respect. We would probably all agree on this point if we were asked; nevertheless, there are two common tendencies among believers that show that this truth has not fully inundated our hearts. We must be aware of these tendencies and guard against them. The first is to circumvent (or in some cases blatantly oppose) some aspect of Christ’s plan that we do not understand. The wisdom of God is unsearchable, and we cannot enter in to every aspect of His plan. It may be that God will ask us to do something as a part of His plan, the full purpose of which is beyond us. If we truly believe that God’s plan is perfect we will believe and obey. The second tendency is to add things to God’s plan of our own construction. If God’s plan really is perfect why do we sometimes think we can improve on it? We think that if we put Christ in the center of our program we are honoring Him, but I beg to suggest a different perspective. (I credit my father with this statement) It is not enough to put Christ in the center of our program; we must see to it that we are in the center of Christ’s program.
It is important as we consider the headship of Christ that we get our thinking right concerning what it means to submit to Him. We are not just talking about the commands of Christ. Sometimes we are tempted to say things like, “Well the Bible doesn’t say I have to do it this way,” or “It doesn’t say I can’t do this.” But that is really the wrong sort of question to ask. John in his first general epistle gives us a progression of maturity as regards our relationship with Christ. 1 John 2:3-6 says,
“Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, I know Him, and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.”
Here is the progression, keeping His commandments is good, but if we really love Him we will want to go beyond that. We will want to do everything that He says regardless of whether it is stated as a command or not. We will act on the principles found in His word. As we progress even further in our relationship we will want to walk just as He walked. We will want to do everything that He does, and remember the things found in the gospel accounts are only the things which He began to do and teach.
There are many practical things that I believe the Lord has incorporated into His pattern for the church that help us to keep thinking rightly of Christ in His place as head. We will begin to discuss these in next month’s article.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


We will now take a look at the outline which we are to follow throughout this series of articles. The outline will present six foundational principles that the church must understand (by the way these are not six things that I just thought up. Even the structure of the outline itself is taken from Scripture). Before we enter into discussion of this outline, however, I would like to ask the very basic question, why should we spend so much time studying the church? I hope to show throughout these articles that our Lord has laid down in His word a very simple but very important pattern for His church, but first:
Is this a topic worthy of our serious consideration? Does it matter how we operate the church? I submit that it is, and it does. One of the primary reasons that it matters so much is that the church is a thing very near and dear to the Lord. In fact all of His activity on the earth in this age is centered around the church. Let us consider the following question by way of illustration: What are the earthly things that you have that are most important to you? If you were to make a list in answer to this question, I think that at the top of your list would be things like your family and your body, and perhaps just below that might be your home. I do not think it is coincidental that the three primary ways in which the Lord describes the church are as His bride, His body and His temple (dwelling place). He chose to picture His church using things that would communicate great value. That in itself suggests how important the church must be to the Lord. It becomes much clearer when we actually read what the Lord has to say in His word about His temple, body and bride.
“If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which is what you are” (1 Cor 3:17).
“Husbands love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:25-27).
“For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord does the church” (Eph 5:29).
If this is what God desires for His church, then perhaps we ought to desire the same, and perhaps we ought to carefully consider whether we are structuring the church and functioning in the way that brings most glory and honor to God. There is much more that could be said on this topic, but I leave that to your further consideration and study.
Now we are ready to see what are the principles that the Lord knows are most important for the church. I believe these principles are outlined for us in the book of Acts, and then expounded in the epistles. The book of Acts is not merely a collection of things that happened in the early days that Luke thought were interesting enough to be written down. This is the account, I believe, of how God taught the early believers what they needed to know to transition from their Jewish thinking to what God wanted the church to be. What follows is the outline of those principles. It will serve as a road map for this series of articles.
I. United Together with the Risen Christ (Acts 1:1-2:47)
II. Strength to Endure Opposition (Acts 3:1-6:7)
III. Equipped for Spiritual Service (Acts 6:8-9:31)
IV. Called to Holiness (Acts 9:32-12:24)
V. Sent to Preach the Gospel (Acts 12:25-19:20)
VI. Prepared for the Defense of the Gospel (Acts 19:21-28:31)


Throughout the history of the church it has been necessary for believers to reexamine the scriptural foundations of the church. It would seem that we as human beings have a tendency to fall into certain patterns of behavior and to stick to those patterns, losing sight perhaps of the original reason, or why these behaviors were adopted. To put it another way, mankind has a tendency to go their own way (Isa 53:6). This can be true even of believers.
Let me offer an illustration; I heard a story once of a young, newly-married woman who was preparing a roast one day for her family. At one point her husband saw her cut off a few inches from one end of the roast before placing it in the crock-pot. The husband asked, “Why do you cut off that part of the roast?” “That’s the way my mother always did it” was her reply. When they got a chance they asked her mother why she did that. She said that her mother always did it that way. Finally they asked the grandma what the reason was for cutting off that portion of the roast. She said, “Oh, I only did that because my crock-pot was too small to hold the entire roast.”
Now let me give an example of something that actually happens in some churches today. In the days before air conditioning (which some still recall) the meeting places would get quite hot in the summer. In order to compensate for this heat people would often open the windows to let some breeze pass through the building. In addition to letting in some fresh air, this would also often let in some flies. These flies would inevitably find the bread and sometimes end up floating in the wine (or grape juice). This renders these emblems somewhat unpalatable. A simple solution was found of draping a cloth other the emblems. In some assemblies, however, this ritual has survived even though the reason for it has ceased to be applicable. It seems to me that if our Lord gave us visual reminders of His body and blood then it would be preferable that we should be able to see them.
I propose to present a series of articles in which we examine the foundational principles of the church as found in the scripture. I want to carefully explore what is part of God’s pattern, and what is not. My purpose for this is as follows. There are many things which we might be practicing that are very important for the proper functioning of the assembly, yet if we do not know where they are taught in Scripture or understand why they are important, then they will be lost in successive generations. There might also be some things that are practiced that are not taught in Scripture and that are even hindrances to the proper functioning assembly. These may be things that run contrary to God’s principles, or they may simply be man-made things that are not the best. Thus in the language of Scripture we want to “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess 5:21).
One further comment, this series of articles is for Bereans only. When Paul preached to those in Berea we are told that they searched the Scriptures daily to find out if those things were so (Acts 17:10-11). I have no intention of presenting my view on things. I hope to study the Scriptures carefully with the readers, and come to an understanding of what God has to say on the subject of the church. This may require from time to time setting aside what “we have always thought,” or even setting aside what “seems reasonable” from our human perspective. Thus throughout this process I welcome comments, questions and responses, especially when someone does not think that I have given sufficient Scriptural justification.