The Holy Community

In its preoccupation with heart attitudes, Luke’s portrait of early Christian koinonia is a discomforting challenge to economically-comfortable Christians, relentlessly probing our motives. When confronted with another person’s need, is our first impulse to help or to edge away? To find a way to meet the need or to find an excuse for avoiding involvement? When brothers and sisters are in need, the normal response of people touched by God’s Spirit is to share together as members of a family do. How normal is the evangelical church today? Luke sums up the result of the Christian’s sense of family partnership, “there was not even a needy person among them (Acts 4:34).” His words deliberately echo the Lord’s ancient promise of blessing toward Israel, if Israel were to prove faithful (Deut. 15:4-5), “There will not be a needy person among you, for the Lord your God will greatly bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to inherit as your portion. If you listen intently to the voice of the Lord your God to keep and to do all these commands that I am commanding you today.” This promise assured Israel of God’s blessing and material prosperity if Israel proved faithful to the Lord and His Law. Israel disobeyed and received a curse rather than blessing, but now God’s promise of a blessing that erases want is coming to fulfillment in the church, not through abundant harvests but through open hearts. The fulfillment of God’s promise through hearts turned inside out – from protective selfishness to risky liberality – is a more marvelous work of God than ample rainfall and bumper crops from Palestinian soil would have been. The practical koinonia in the church is the fruit of the Spirit who removes the curse, making dry ground fertile once again.

– Dennis Johnson

The Real Tragedy in the Church

The tendency today is to minimize truth in favor of organization, and men are telling us with unwearied reiteration that the greatest tragedy of the world is the disunited church. But the tragedy, the greatest tragedy, as I understand the New Testament, is not the disunity of the church, is not the fact that the church is divided into groups and denominations, is not that we are not all in one organization, but that all the sections are preaching a false message and there has been a departure from the truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus. If we were all brought together and formed into one organization, that is no guarantee that the message preached would be true.

– Lloyd-Jones, Expository Sermons on 2 Peter, p. 128.

Eight Convictions about the Local Church

Here’s a good roadmap for a church to follow:

  1. BIBLE: The word of God does the work of God through the Spirit of God in the people of God;
  2. LOCAL CHURCH: The local church is the primary place where the Kingdom of Heaven impacts the kingdoms of this world;
  3. EXPOSITORY PREACHING: Consecutive expository preaching by the pastor-teacher is the best normal diet of the local church;
  4. MEETINGS: The meetings of the local church are for both edification and evangelism (with no sharp distinction between these)
  5. MINISTERS: The ministers of the local church are all its members;
  6. FOCUS: The local church should focus on doing a few things really well;
  7. SACRIFICE: The local church exits for the sake of others;
  8. PRAYER: Prayer lies at the heart of the local church.

– Mark Ashton, former pastor of St. Andrews the Great (StAG), quoted in Persistently Preaching Christ; Fifty Years of Bible Ministry in a Cambridge Church, p 13.

Concerning the Visible Unity of the Church

Unity should be evident in the way Christians talk to and about one another, in forbearance and forgiveness, in fellowship of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. It involves a recognition of our brotherhood in baptism and a practice of table fellowship. It is a unity in faith, in life, in practice, in water and bread. An invisible unity is not a biblical unity. Visible division is incompatible with the New Testament’s portrayal of the church.

– Peter Leithart, The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church, p. 21 (emphasis added).

The Church as a Divine Institution

[T]he Church is a Divine institution, owing its origin not to man, but to Christ, and associated together not in consequence of human arrangement, but by Christ’s appointment.

No doubt there is a foundation laid in the very nature of the religion which Christ came to promulgate, for the union of His disciples in one body or society. The faith which each man holds for the salvation of his own soul is a faith which joins him to every other believer. The close and mysterious union which is constituted by faith between him and his Savior, is a union that connects him through that Savior with every other Christian. In becoming one with Christ, he becomes at the same time, in a certain sense, one with all who are Christ’s. The spiritual fellowship that a believer enjoys with his Redeemer, is not a solitary or a selfish joy, but one which he cannot possess alone, or except in common with other believers. It is the very nature, therefore, of the Gospel to be not a solitary religion, but a social one. When Christ, through the mighty operation of His Spirit, brings a sinner into reconciliation and communion with Himself, He ushers him also into the fellowship of reconciliation and communion with all other Christians. When the work of grace is done upon the soul of man, and the barriers of separation between him and his Savior are cast down, and the sinner who was afar off is brought near to God, the very same work of grace removes the obstacles that hindered his union to his fellow-believers. Were there no positive command or appointment, therefore, requiring Christians to unite together and to form on earth a society joined together by the profession of the same faith, the very nature of Christianity would force such a result.

– James Bannerman, The Church of Christ, pp. 19-20 (emphasis added).

Concerning the Nature and Purpose of Church Authority

While chosen and recognized by the people, church elders receive their authority through the Holy Spirit who called them, endued them, and appointed them for service (Acts 20:28). Service, not power or prestige, is the purpose of church officers, as of all believers. The Christian follows his Lord in the way of the cross. Jesus repeatedly reversed the disciples’ thinking. They sought worldly greatness – places of honor in his kingdom; but he asked if they could drink his cup of suffering, and told them that he came, not to be served, but ‘to serve and to give his life a ransom for many’ (Matt. 20:25-28).

Peter learned that lesson, and he later warned elders not to lord it over those entrusted to them, but to be examples to the flock; more than others they must gird on humility, as Jesus girded on a towel to wash his disciples’ feet (1 Pet. 5:3, 6).

No teaching of Jesus is more easily grasped; none is more basic for Christian living; none is more often forgotten, betrayed, and resisted. Yet it remains the hallmark of Christian leadership; without it, the Lord’s order for his church collapses in shambles. Church government is the rule of Christ’s kingdom of grace and sacrificial love. Without that love, church rule can become the worst kind of oppression, that which destroyed the soul.

– Edmund Clowney, The Church, pp. 206-207.