Tag Archive: church


Churches may, indeed, soon face more vicious forms of government sanctioned persecution in this country. This is not something new, nor should it surprise us. (Matt. 5:10-12; John 15:20-23) Let us be sure of one thing, however: the Church of Jesus Christ, over which He is Head (Eph. 1:18-23), will never cease to exist on the earth. (1 Cor. 15:22-28) The people of God do not have to have buildings and public meetings to carry on the work of the gospel, which is the one unique and glorious thing about this message– it does not deal only with external behavior, but is the power of God to penetrate to the very soul and no opposition, seen or unseen, will ever succeed in stopping it. (Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12, 13) You can forbid people to meet and you can destroy our buildings and you can threaten us all you want, but the gospel will continue to be applied to the human race according to the sovereign decree of God and then it will be over–and not a millisecond before God has done whatsoever He pleases with this world. (2 Pet. 3:3-10) Rave on God-haters. He who sits in the heavens is laughing at you. (Psa. 2:1-4) You are only storing up wrath for that great Day. (Rom. 2:5-8)

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Some Thoughts on the Divine Origin of the Church

Acts 2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. 5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs– we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.”

The context of this passage is well known. Jesus has been crucified and He has appeared to His disciples following His resurrection from the dead. In the first chapter of this book, He explains to His disciples that they were going to become witnesses for Him beginning in Jerusalem, but eventually encompassing the whole world. When we look at the Gospels, we see that the same disciples were often confused about the things Jesus taught them and the things Jesus predicted. But at one point, Jesus promised a Helper who would come after Him to equip these disciples to carry out the commission given to them by the Savior.

The arrival of that Helper, who is the Holy Spirit, is recorded in the verses I just read. This happened on the day of Pentecost. This holy day occurred 50 days after Passover. Rabbinic scholars teach that Moses brought the law of God down from Mount Sinai 50 days after the observance of Passover. This particular day; therefore, came to have great significance for the Jews.

During the time of Christ, the Jews were somewhat scattered throughout the region. At this celebration, Jews would travel to Jerusalem from various locations throughout the empire. That is why so many areas were represented when this event took place (cf. vv. 9-11). The Spirit that comes on this day is the Spirit of Christ. He comes to prepare the disciples to take a new law to the world—the law of Christ or the law of liberty, as James calls it in his epistle. The law of God was given to make us aware of our sin and need for redemption. On this occasion, the One who kept the law of God perfectly for us so that we might be redeemed dispatches His Spirit to apply the victory He attained.

After this, the book of Acts records the phenomenal growth of the early Church. The disciples who were confused and timid become men of superior understanding and boldness. On this day, the transformation of the world began. And it is still going on in our day as the people of Christ speak, teach, and preach about Him throughout the world. The few thousand who were converted within days of this event have become millions upon millions over the centuries. This is the context for this passage of Scripture.

The disciples were gathered in an upper room that was used as living quarters. Based on the previous chapter, we know that they were devoting themselves to prayer and were probably discussing recent events. While contemplating their circumstances, “suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing when, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.” (v. 2) In addition, “there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them.” (v. 3) This event had significance, not just for this particular day, but for the rest of their lives. And this event had significance, not just for the city of Jerusalem, but for the entire world. On this day, the subjection of the world to the King of Kings begins. Everything that grew out of this event, which includes the establishment and global progress of the Church of Christ, bears the mark of the supernatural. The Church is not a creation of man, it is a creation of God. The destiny of the Church is not in the hands of man, but in the hands of God.

What does all of this imply for the ministry of local congregations? I would mention first the matter of our mission. The mission of the Church is the conversion of sinners. The mission of the Church is the conversion of nations of sinners through the teaching and preaching of the words of Christ. In a local ministry, we must understand that our mission is to preach and apply the gospel. Only the gospel can bring about the salvation of a lost soul; therefore, the gospel must be the primary concern of the local church because we exist to save lost souls. Contemporary churches are often extremely confused when it comes to articulating their mission. As result, many churches have tried to become all things to all people, with the result that their primary mission, as assigned by the Savior, suffers from neglect.

In addition to bearing on the relationship between the local church and the surrounding community, the supernatural origin of the Church also relates to the nature of our worship. If the Church is of the divine origin, then it must reflect that truth in everything it does. And one of the most significant tasks in which the local church engages is the worship of God. The local church is obligated to make sure that the way in which God is approached on the Lord’s Day is acceptable to Him. It is God’s character that we need to consider when we decide what we are going to include or exclude from our service of worship.

Once again, we must admit that contemporary local churches are often severely misguided in this important area. It is common today for churches to structure themselves in order to attract visitors. This is exactly the wrong perspective. As a divine institution, the local church must reflect its divine origin. The Church is, once again, the creation of God through the Holy Spirit. This truth was made unmistakably clear on the day of Pentecost.

In our worship, it should be evident that we are offering our praise and our service to God, which in turn means that we are to worship Him according to what He has revealed to us. The worship of the local church is not the place for innovation, it is the place for tradition, tradition stretching all the way back to the giving of the Scriptures where we find what God says is appropriate. When it comes to worship, a disregard for tradition amounts to disobedience if that disregard causes us to introduce unbiblical elements into our worship. When I speak of disobedience to tradition, I am not referring to the tradition of man, but to the tradition of doctrine given to us by God. The Bible tells us what God accepts when it comes to His worship. That is our tradition.

The supernatural origin of the Church has implications for our mission and our organization, specifically our worship. I would add one more observation. This one concerns our expectation as local congregations. Based on what we know about the origin of the Church and the equipping of the Church by the Holy Spirit, should we be optimistic or pessimistic about the impact of the gospel in this world?

Let us acknowledge that the conflict between darkness and light has been decided. It was decided when Jesus rose from the dead, which is why the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus Christ occupied such a prominent place in the preaching of the early Church. Since Peter stood before the people gathered in Jerusalem and preached, Christ has been applying His victory through the Church to the world. And we should expect that process to continue. The divine origin of the Church guarantees that history must unfold as an amazing application of the atonement.

We live in a dark day when it comes to the expectation of contemporary churches. The optimism that should accompany those who believe the gospel has been all but extinguished by the so-called “end times” eschatology. But understand that this is not the view that characterized the Church of Christ in the past; nor will it be the view that characterizes the Church in the future. But thanks be to God that eventually the Church will escape the clutches of this view that robs Christ of His glory and the Church of Her vision.

 

10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

(Hebrews 12:10-13)

In this passage the word translated “hospitality” is a combination of two terms, one meaning “love” and the other meaning “stranger.” The word “hospitality,” therefore, means “lover of strangers.” As we see this idea developed in the New Testament, it becomes obvious that this Christian characteristic is very broad in its application. The term is not limited in use to strangers only. It describes a desire to develop relationships with others, relationships that are mutually beneficial yet motivated by a sense of duty toward others. I want to emphasize, however, that desire alone is not sufficient. As in most things, the desire is the place to begin, but more has to follow.

Having been in the pastoral ministry for almost 30 years I would rank complaints about relationships as the number one grievance expressed by believers. “That church isn’t friendly.” “I don’t feel welcomed in that church.” “I don’t think people really care if I’m around.” “That church is full of cliques.” “I was sick for a week and no one called me.” Such representative statements could be multiplied. We are, when all is said and done, very self-centered creatures. Our analysis of just about everything in life begins with our own sense of comfort.

Where do I begin if I want to understand this issue more profitably? I don’t begin by looking at others and reaching conclusions about whether they have been as friendly and open to me as I think proper. It is this kind of approach that leads to the opinions I just repeated. It is essential, therefore, that we recognize that the Bible instructs us to practice hospitality, it does not instruct us to judge the hospitality of others.

Typically, when we think of hospitality, we think of having someone in our home for a meal. Without question, that is one of the primary ways in which we show hospitality. Eating is a fundamental human activity and when you share that time with someone, you are involving them in one of your most basic habits in life. So, this is an ideal way to develop relationships. But if, at the heart of this characteristic is the desire to build relationships, then we must admit that sharing a meal, while it might be one of the most natural ways of showing hospitality, is not by any means the only way. The truth is, there are a multitude of activities that would amount to hospitality. Just about anything done for the good of another qualifies. All such efforts contribute to the building of relationships.

In summary, hospitality is not limited to having people over for dinner. It is about getting involved in the lives of others in ways that allow you to serve them and genuinely help them. Would you say that you are a hospitable person?

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. (2 Cor. 10:5, 6)

This is part of Paul’s admonition to the believers in Corinth. On a personal level, our sanctification is a matter of self-discipline. We are to strive to resist the “natural” tendencies of our flesh while, by God’s grace and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we train our minds in righteousness. This is a life-long struggle, although righteousness gains ground against the demands of our fallen nature steadily and certainly.

I would suggest that this passage has relevance to the Church’s interaction with our culture. If we are dedicated to subduing our minds as just described, would this not also be our goal as we encounter the culture, either individually or corporately? That is, would we not also desire to bring the thoughts of others under the authority of Christ? Isn’t that what happens at conversion? Or, I should say, isn’t that the process that begins at conversion? The sanctification of believers is just that–the gradual subjugation of the whole man to Christ. The nature of the gospel includes the aspect of recreating. This is clearly evident when we examine the life of an individual who has been converted. We see that person’s disposition gradually remade into that which pleases God. Why would we not expect the same thing to happen on a larger scale?

Culture reflects what is in the heart. Today, generally speaking, our culture reflects the unregenerate state of a majority of the population. If the day comes when a majority of people have been converted and are progressing in their sanctification, the culture will certainly reflect that change. This is not an overnight process, but a gradual process, as I noted above. That is true for both the individual Christian and the entire church. My expectation, therefore, is that Paul’s exhortation will one day be the norm in our culture. As a culture, on a corporate level, we will be taking every thought captive in obedience to Christ.

The impediment to what I have described is, ironically, the church! The character of contemporary evangelicalism indicates that the principle in the verses above is not a prevailing perspective in the church. There are encouraging exceptions, of course, especially among Reformed churches, but most evangelical churches do not appear to be giving a great amount of attention to the notion of capturing the culture in which we live. This is where the doctrine of eschatology becomes crucial. I believe that most evangelicals are convinced we are in “the end times” and the return of Christ is just around the corner. Accompanying this viewpoint is the expectation (and ready acceptance) of defeat for the church when it comes to our encounter with our culture. If we believe God has ordained that the church would simply bear witness to Christ in this fallen world and not succeed in transforming the culture, then there will be a corresponding withdraw from the public square. We can hardly deny that this is precisely what has happened to the church over the past 50 or 60 years (and some would argue for a much longer history of the eschatology of defeat).

We have this basic and easily understood admonition from the apostle, however, to get us back on track, so to speak. The desire to see our culture transformed by the gospel is the place to begin. This is going to require the purging of the expectation of defeat from the hearts and minds of average believers, and the filling the resultant void with the expectation of triumph—here on the earth in real time.

 

The Reactionary Church

One of several uncomplimentary terms that could be used to describe the modern Church is “reactionary.” Routinely, the contemporary Church is found responding to developments in society, rather than taking a role of leading society according to Biblical principles. These days, we spend a lot of our time determining what we are going to say regarding the latest example of debauchery. Although it is reasonable to expect that the Church will, by necessity, have to respond after some issue has manifested itself, this should not be the standard operating procedure for Christ’s people. The Church should not have as a leading characteristic this trait of entering the debate long after it has begun. This is completely contrary to what Scripture has to say about the activity of the Church in this fallen world.

Throughout the Bible, the people of God are pictured as invading the territory of the wicked in order to capture it and reform it according to God’s Word. We see this principle in primitive form as the nation of Israel finally entered the Promised Land. Those nations then occupying the region were immediately treated as enemies and their destruction was the goal throughout the period of Israel’s advancement. God didn’t command His people to compromise or negotiate or attempt to “get along” with those foreign nations.

Much of the explanation for this characteristic of the Church comes from Her belief that we are destined to lose ground in this world until we finally reach the point where Jesus will return and rescue us by taking us out of the world. This defeatist attitude has crippled the Church for decades. It has resulted in our abandonment of one sphere after another. Therefore, we find ourselves well behind the chief topics of controversy and debate in our culture. Rather than lead by example and the declaration of the gospel, the modern Church is almost always in the position of criticizing and condemning there is aspects of contemporary life. From that perspective, the Church offers Biblical instruction, but the context in which the world sees us primarily as critics, makes our voice something to be mocked or ignored.

In Matthew 16, in response to Peter’s confession, Jesus made this statement: 18 “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” Gates are used to protect what is within from that which is without. In this passage, therefore, the Lord described His Church as continually advancing against and eventually overcoming the defenses of darkness.  When we recapture the viewpoint of the Savior, then the modern Church will become an agent for conversion and reformation, as God designed.