December 2010 Issue
~ A Display of God's Glory
Article VI of the Baptist Faith and Message focuses on
"The Church." Because of the ever-present potential
for divergence and deterioration regarding the nature and essentials
of the church, we will devote the doctrinal focus of the next
few issues to the doctrine of the church. The following articles
are designed to complement the emphasis of Article VI in the BF&M,
and set the stage for the series.
Glorifying God ~ By Being a Biblically Sound
by Mark Dever
The doctrine of the church is of the utmost importance. A theology
for the church would be incomplete without a theology of the church.
It is the most visible part of Christian theology, and it is vitally
connected with every other part. Serious departures from the Bible's
teaching about the church normally signify other, more central
misunderstandings about the Christian faith.
Historically, Baptists have been some of the most concerned
among all evangelical Christians to establish and defend a truly
biblical ecclesiology. Yet today many Baptists, along with other
evangelicals, seem to care less and less about what the Bible
teaches about the church. Many churches treat the individual consumer
as supreme and gear all that they do around the personal preferences
of the individuals to whom they want to appeal. For others, a
desire for rapid multiplication leads to a "lowest common
denominator" ecclesiology which fails to reflect the fullness
of God's purposes for His corporate people.
Perhaps the popular disinterest in ecclesiology results from
the understanding that the church itself is not necessary for
salvation. Even the Church of Rome recognized in the Second Vatican
Council that for a normally competent and self-conscious adult,
participation in the church is not necessary for salvation. And
emphasizing salvation by faith alone, evangelical Protestants
certainly have even less use for the church, much less for studying
the doctrine of the church.
Yet neglecting the Bible's teaching about the church will have
consequences. God established the church as a display
of His glory. When the church is marked off from the world through
the faithful practice of church membership and discipline, and
led by godly, qualified men who teach the Word and equip all the
saints for works of service, the church's corporate character
proclaims the glory of God through the power of the Gospel. But
when a church fails to draw a bright line between itself and the
world, its members live just like the world, its leaders fail
to meet biblical qualifications, and that church will broadcast
lies about God and His Gospel to the world.
Ultimately, the church should be regarded as important to Christians
because of its importance to Christ. Christ founded the church
(Matthew 16:18), purchased it with His blood (Acts 20:28), and
intimately identifies Himself with it (Acts 9:4). The church is
the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:23; 4:12; 5:23-32; Colossians
1:18, 24; 3:15; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27), the dwelling place of
His Spirit (Romans 8:9, 11, 16; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:11, 15-17;
Ephesians 2:18, 22; 4:4), and the chief instrument for glorifying
God in the world. Finally, the church is God's instrument for
bringing both the Gospel to the nations and a great host of redeemed
humanity to Himself (Revelation 5:9).
More than once, Jesus said that love for Him would be demonstrated
by obedience to His commandments (John 14:15, 23). Such obedience
not only requires individual commitment and action from Christians,
it requires a committed corporate obedience. Together, individuals
in churches will go, disciple, baptize, teach to obey, love, remember,
and commemorate His substitutionary death with bread and the fruit
of the vine.
The enduring authority of Christ's commands isn't the only
compelling reason for Christians to study the Bible's teaching
on the church. Present day errors in the understanding and the
practice of the church will, if they prevail still more, further
obscure the Gospel. Christian proclamation might make the Gospel
audible, but Christians living together in local congregations
make the Gospel visible (see John 13:34-35). The church is the
Today, many local churches are adrift in the shifting currents
of pragmatism. They assume that the immediate felt-response of
non-Christians is the key indicator of success. At the same time,
Christianity is being rapidly disowned in the culture at large,
as evangelism is characterized as intolerant and portions of biblical
doctrine are classified as hate speech. In such antagonistic times,
the felt needs of non-Christians can hardly be considered reliable
gauges, and conforming to the culture will mean a loss of the
As long as quick numerical growth remains the primary indicator
of church health, the truth will be compromised. Instead, churches
must once again begin measuring success not in terms of numbers,
but in terms of fidelity to the Scriptures. William Carey was
faithful in India and Adoniram Judson persevered in Burma not
because they met immediate success or advertised themselves as
"relevant." Part of what it means to recover such tenacious
faithfulness in our day is that churches must swim against the
tide of pragmatism and seek to be faithful to all that God calls
His church to be in Scripture. We must make faithfulness to God's
Word our measure of success, including faithfulness to what God's
Word says about how our churches should be structured and governed.
But ecclesiology is not just about churches being structured
properly, it's about Christians investing themselves in God's
ordained means for growing them and evangelizing the world: the
local church. All Christian should care about ecclesiology because
all Christians should be deeply invested in their local churches,
and so they should do what they can to ensure that their churches
are being faithful to Scripture. It is as we invest ourselves
in our churches and work to bring biblical health to our churches
that we ourselves grow, the whole church is built up and unified,
and a beautiful picture of God's grace is put on display to the
lost world around us.
God's plan for evangelizing the world is the local church.
God's plan for growing you to maturity in Christ is the local
church. And God has told us much in His Word about who should
lead our churches and how our churches should be governed. May
God help us to strive together to build churches which bring Him
glory and commend the Gospel through obeying all that He has told
us in His Word.
Truly, the church is a display of God's glory.
Mark Dever is senior pastor of Capitol Hill
Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.
The above article by Mark Dever
is adapted from the introduction to his chapter "The Church"
in A Theology for the Church, edited by Daniel L. Akin
and published by B&H Publishing Group. An immense 992-page
work, with contributions from leading Baptist educators and pastors,
this valuable resource asks and answers four major questions regarding
eight Christian doctrines.
What does the
What has the
How do the doctrines
How does each
doctrine impact the church today?
Glorifying God ~ By Producing Mature Believers
by John Revell
Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians that God's specific
purpose and intent for the church was that it would bring Him
glory. We see this particularly in Chapter 1:3-14 where Paul carefully
and methodically demonstrated how all three Persons of the Godhead
have been actively involved in the work of our salvation. At the
end of the portion on God the Father, he indicated that our adoption
was to be to the praise of His glorious grace (1:6). Following
his discussion on the work of Jesus in our salvation, we find
that His purpose was that we would bring praise to His glory (1:12).
And at the conclusion of his discussion on our being sealed by
the Holy Spirit until the day of our redemption, Paul finished
again with the explanation that it would be to the praise of
His glory (1:14).
Later, in one of the most magnificent benedictions in all of
Scripture, Paul wrote, Now to Him who is able to do above and
beyond all that we ask or think according to the power
that works in you to Him be glory in the church
and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
(3:20-21, emphasis added). Here we find that the church, as a
reflection of God's loving care for His people, is an instrument
for God's glory now and forevermore.
The operative question at this point is, "How?" How
do we as His church bring Him glory? The answer, in part, is found
in Paul's use of the words "fill" and "fullness"
in this and two more key passages in Ephesians.1 And, interestingly,
Paul again tied each Person of the Godhead to the filling and
fullness addressed in each passage.
Filled With All the Fullness
In the verses leading up to the benediction cited above, Paul
emphasized the Christian's goal, to be filled with all the
fullness of God (3:19). This is to be the aspiration of every
Christ-follower to reach full and complete spiritual maturity.
Paul indicated the prerequisite to this fullness in the verses
immediately preceding that goal: I pray that you, being rooted
and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with
all the saints what is the breadth and width, height and depth,
and to know the Messiah's love that surpasses knowledge (17b-19a).
God has designed the church in such a way that as we actively
love each other within the context of the church in the
sacrificial way the Lord has loved us, loving even those who are
difficult to love we begin to comprehend His incomparable
love. This, in turn, leads to our being filled to the fullness
of God, which results in God being glorified.
A Stature Measured by Christ's
In Chapter 4, Paul again referred to the fullness Christians
should attain, but this time he related it to Christ, indicating
that we are to all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge
of God's Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured
by Christ's fullness (4:13).
In the verses leading up to it, Paul indicated that God gave
leadership offices to the church (4:11), for the "equipping"
of the saints (through the teaching and application of His Word2),
so the saints would be fully prepared to do the work of ministry
and build up the Body of Christ (4:12). These components
effective pastoral ministry, the preparation of Christians for
ministry, building up the body, and unity in the faith
are all essential elements for a person to "fill" the
measure of the fullness of Christ. And again, as members of the
church attain fullness through spiritual maturation, as described
in 3:20, God is glorified in the church.
Be Filled With the Spirit
Paul's third use of the word "fullness" in conjunction
with the Trinity is his command for Christians to be filled
with the Spirit (5:18). Again, there is a direct link to how
the church relates within itself. He indicates that members should
be speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual
songs, singing and making music to the Lord in your heart, giving
thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of
our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of
Christ. (5:19-21). Activities that coincide with this filling/maturity
are relating to each other in Bible-based and biblically consistent
worship, giving of thanks, and mutual submission within the body.
These passages conclusively demonstrate that a person is called
by the Lord to properly worship God and grow in Him through
active participation in a healthy church. According to these verses,
God's design for spiritual growth requires such participation.
The converse that a person can properly worship the Lord
and mature in Him apart from the local church is
never taught in Scripture.
But these passages also speak to the essential need for churches
to be functioning healthily and properly in each of these areas;
otherwise we will not see mature believers. In all three of these
passages there is an essential and irrefutable link between the
maturity that God expects of His children and the church's effectiveness
in fulfilling the expectations of each passage.
Where the application of sacrificial love is exemplified; where
there is effective pastoral ministry that equips the people
through the faithful presentation and application of God's Word
for the work of ministry and the members are actively engaged
in ministering to others; and where members encourage and exhort
each other through proper worship, participate in thanksgiving,
and exercise mutual submission, there will be believers who are
reaching the fullness in and of God the Father, God the Son, and
God the Holy Spirit.
When and where these are happening, He receives glory in the
church and in Christ Jesus, which He fully deserves.
1. These come from the Greek words "pleroo"
and "pleroma," which are rich in history and
meaning. To research further, read Schippers' article on "Fullness"
in the Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Volume 1,
2. As indicated by the use of the related word for "equip"
in 2 Timothy 3:17 see Melick's article supporting this
in the May 2008 issue of SBC LIFE.
John Revell is a member of Long Hollow Baptist
Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee, and editor of SBC LIFE.
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