The Doctrine of the Church
What is the church? When thinking of the church, many images come to mind: a white chapel on a hill; a trendy house church in an urban area; a Catholic cathedral with ornate tapestries; and many others. These are not bad images of churches, but they are far from complete. The Greek word for assembly in the New Testament ekklesia is used to define the church throughout the ages. Although the word assembly doesn’t necessarily mean church, it still communicates an important aspect of the body of believers.
The church is a community of redeemed believers in Christ who gather regularly to hear God’s word, worship in song and in giving, and take in the Lord’s Supper, who then scatter into the community to share the gospel and make disciples, while blessing the city for the glory of God. Church is way more than a Sunday morning exercise; it’s who we are as Christians.
1. Who Do You Say That I Am?
When speaking of the church as an assembly of believers, we must know what separates other assemblies from the holy assembly of believers. There are many views on the different marks of church but there are three that are common among most views. We see preaching of the word as one mark of the church. The church’s foundation is on the solid rock of Scripture. Without proper preaching of God’s word, the church becomes a social club full of opinions and sin. The church must include the proper administration of baptism and communion. These ordinances are in place to aid in making the gospel visible within the church. They serve as a reminder of Christ’s work in our hearts and lives, and our profession of faith in Christ.
2. Can You Admit You Are Always Need?
Life in the kingdom of God is much different than any other life known to man. The kingdom of God seems foolish to those who aren’t followers of Jesus. We are part of an unseen kingdom that is not yet fully realized but is still very much present. The tension of living the Christian life can be felt in the “already-not yet” of the kingdom of God.
3. Are You Aware of the Cost?
Life in the kingdom seems backwards sometimes: we must lose in order to gain; we must die in order to live; we must give in order to get; we deserve nothing, yet gain everything by grace. Christ is communicating that our love for Him should make love for your closest friends and family members look like hate in comparison.
4. The Life of Christ Part 1
As we’ve been studying the doctrine of the church, we’ve seen that the church is the people of the king between the already and the not yet of the kingdom of God.2 Before moving forward into the nuances of how church is structured and the nature thereof, we will briefly explore Christ’s atoning work on the cross which enables us to become the people of the King in this world.
5. The Life of Christ Part 2
Christ’s death on the cross accomplished a number of things for His followers. He purchased our freedom, ransomed us, paid our debt, was our substitute, and was the propitiation for our sins. All of these things happened in a way that we could never replicate. Christ died the death that we deserved and he lived the life we could never live. His blood washed our sins away and gave us a new identity.
We know and understand that worship is the act of glorifying God on a large scale with every aspect of our lives. But, what about in our gathering? The time of worship in the church is a time when we come into God’s presence with conscious adoration in our hearts, where we praise Him with our voices and speak about Him in ways that others can hear. This time of corporate singing is where we are able to vocally proclaim as a community that God is worthy of worship.
7. Unity and Purity: Handling Conflict
8. Grace Giving
Money can be a touchy subject in anyone’s life, especially those in the church. The abuse of church finances and the mishandling of biblical texts concerning money both run rampant in the American church. Churches tend to preach on giving and guilt those in the church to give or they downplay the importance of money and never speak of it. As a people following Jesus, we are to have a healthy understanding of money and finances in order to impact the world for the gospel.
As we’ve learned over the past few weeks, our relationship to money is a direct reflection of our hearts. Money is a stressful and difficult topic to discuss in the church and in the world. People willingly sleep with multiple partners and give their bodies away to strangers but refuse to part with their cash, even for a good cause. A Godly understanding of money and budgeting is extremely important in following Jesus well. Jesus tells a parable in Luke 16 that illustrates the importance of good money management and wise stewardship of resources in the furthering of the kingdom.
10. Spiritual Gifts
Spiritual gifts are an extremely important part of a believer’s life and the life of the gospel community. Without them, the church cannot fulfill its purpose of glorifying Christ fully through transformed disciples. It is important to remember that the when speaking of the gifts, we need to keep in mind that Holy Spirit is not an ‘it’ but rather a ‘He.’ The Spirit is not like The Force in Star Wars that can be wielded and manipulated at will. Unfortunately, some in the church treat Him as such. We believe the Holy Spirit (The Force) is strong with some and not with others, when, in reality, the Holy Spirit empowers us all and gifts us uniquely according to His will. Paul dismisses this hierarchical notion in his letters.
11. Means of Grace
Grace is one of those words that is often flippantly thrown around both inside and outside of the church without a good understanding of what it truly means. Some say that people grace us with their presence; they say that we just need to show one another grace and not judge people; and some say that God’s grace is conditional. It has been a poorly defined word in both Christian and worldly culture. Without a proper understanding of grace, we risk being soft on sin and allowing people to do whatever they please.
12. Doctrine Matters
The American church has a tendency to focus on the personal, subjective relationship with Jesus and be apprehensive when it comes to right and true doctrine. The hunger for learning in the church has decreased while the focus on personal experience has increased. Both personal experience and increased learning are not enemies, however; they are close friends and we must not try to separate or reconcile them. We cannot sacrifice one for the other. Balance is important and must be strived for.