THE 1080 The Nature and Purpose of the Church
Would obedience to the following 5 doctrines be an acceptable standard against which all groups claiming to be part of the Christian Church may be measured?
The deity of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Triune nature of the Godhead.
The Authority and inspiration of the Scriptures.
The fact of universal sin.
Salvation by grace though Christ Jesus alone.
All of us know that there are different churches with different beliefs and practises, the fact of the matter is people differ in there belief, experience, thinking and their doctrine of God.
Before trying to determine an acceptable standard against which the Christian Church may be measured, the first thing one should consider is a definition of a Christian. Dr. C.L Peppler (1997:15) defines a Christian as ”One who repents, exercises faith in Jesus for salvation, and confesses the Lordship of Christ both through testimony and by living according to His example and teaching”.
The universal church consists of all disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, both in heaven and on earth. A family of God extending through time, with Christ as the head and the church as His body (Eph 1:22-23). Therefore the church in reality should function as a family, who, having differences in personality share commonalities like DNA, parents etc.
Looking at church in general, what are the doctrines that remind us that we are part of God’s family? I do not think we should focus on the doctrines that we disagree on. We could learn a lot from the prayer of St Francis of Assisi: “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; Not so much to be understood, as to understand; Not so much to be loved, than to love”(Kendall 2000:107) Ideally church should look past their differences and come together to form the family that God intended it to be.
However, let us consider the following 5 doctrines as a means to measure a group as belonging to the Christian Church, the family of God.
The deity of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In Matt 11:27 Jesus states: “All things have been committed to Me, by My Father”. It is a very bold statement to make if one is not the Son of God.
C. S. Lewis as quoted by Howitt, wrote that “the type of claims that Jesus made would have made Him either a raving lunatic, Satan himself, or God” (Howitt 1998:74).
The fact that we are still talking about Jesus today is testimony to how real and big the claims was that he made. If His statements were untrue, how is it possible that Christianity is still one of the biggest practicing faiths in the world after 2009 years? Although the many a Christians’ Christianity is questionable. Consider John 1:14 “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” and John1:34 “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” The deity is the basis on which our faith is built. John14:6-7 “…No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know Me, you would know My Father.”
The reality of our faith is based on Jesus the Son of God. If a person does not believe that Jesus is God, it is impossible for him to be a Christian. John Newton said: “There are two things that I will never forget: That I am a great sinner and that Jesus Christ is a great Savior” (Kenneth W. Osbeck :28).
The Triune Nature of the Godhead.
The Triune Nature of the Godhead is something that we easily think of as a military type of hierarchy. God the Father (the One that is first in command) then Jesus Christ (second in command) and lastly the Holy Spirit (last in command) but in truth all three are equally God; Father, Son and Spirit.
I like the quote by de Bruyn” The work of the triune God is confessed as follows in the Catechism: God the Father and our creation, God the Son and our redemption, God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification. Father, Son and Holy Spirit work together to lead us to eternal glory. The Father creates us, the Son redeems us, the Holy Spirit sanctifies us so that we, one day, undefiled, may enter the eternal glory. Seen in this way, the doctrine of the triune God is not a matter of cold, unemotional paragraphs of dogmatism, but a confession which must stir our hearts and let us rejoice and be joyous” (De Bruyn, P.J 1997, S. Question 24)
In John 14:9 Jesus clearly states Him and the Father as one “Jesus answered: Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?”. Also consider John 14:16, 17 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” The Greek translation for another is allos that denotes as “another of the same kind as myself ”. This word links Jesus in same way to the Holy Spirit as to the Father in verse 9. The fact that God the Father, the Son and the Spirit is one, and is God, is undisputable.
Joh. 14:6-7 “Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” It is difficult for the human mind to understand, but if you belief in Jesus you must believe what He said and thus must believe in the Triune Nature of the Godhead.
The Authority and the Inspiration of the Scriptures.
When it comes to the doctrine of the authority and the inspiration of the Scriptures, let’s start with John 1:1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” I believe that the Word, given by God, is a way to reveal more of Himself to us.
We must realize that the Word of God is what we as Christians have to teach us more of who God is and what His will is. If we do not believe in the authority and inspiration of the Scripture from what will we teach and be thought? Is the bible not the very core on which all our doctrine should be based. My personal favourite verse in the Bible is 2Tim.3:16-17. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
I believe that God Himself inspired the Scriptures and has authority in every Word that is written in the Scripture. If we don’t believe in the Word of God, how can we believe in the God of the Word.
The Fact of Universal Sin:
If there is one fact in life, then it will be that we are all sinners. Rom3:23 “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The fourteenth point of the letter M Luther wrote to Melanchthon: “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. (2 Peter 3:13) It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery a thousand times over. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meagre sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner” (Luther, Martin 1521)
If there was no sin then there would be no need for Jesus Christ our saviour to die on the cross. If we had no sin we would have no need for a Savior.
1Joh1:10 “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives”. Because of the fact of universal sin we need Christ to help us, to forgive and clean us from our sins. 1Joh1:8-9 “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”.
Sin’s power over us is death and Christ is our life in a world of sin and death. If we say there is no sin or dispute the fact of universal sin, then we cheapen the price Christ paid for us on the cross. One must not be deceived, believing you have no sin. That is the way the devil destroyed many of the Pharisees and the Saddusees .
Salvation by grace through Christ alone:
Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Tim 2:10 “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.”
“Salvation is literally defined as: to be delivered, taken out of a snare, or set free. Salvation involves the totality of what God has done for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have been delivered from sin, death, and the power of the devil. It is God who has saved us in Christ” (Matzat, Donald 1996.Salvation)
Someone cannot be taken out of a snare by himself, or be delivered on his own. When it comes to salvation through Christ, we must realize that no deed can save you from death and no action or offering can bring justice other than what Christ has done for us. Titus 2:11 “For the grace of God that brings salvation have appeared to all men”. There is no single human being on earth that deserves salvation. But still God wants to give us salvation because of His love for us. Consider Luke1:77-78 “To give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven”.
The grace of God is something that we are far from understanding. Who can know the beginning and the end of God’s grace? God wants to see all saved from death because He loves us. If you are a Christian and you do not believe in salvation by grace through Christ alone (Acts 4:12), then it is questionable if you really know the God you serve. Our salvation is all about the grace that God gave us through Christ. 1Thess.5:9 “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ”.
Consider the definition of a Christian by Dr. C.L Peppler (1997:15) ”One who repents, exercises faith in Jesus for salvation, and confesses the Lordship of Christ both through testimony and by living according to His example and teaching”. Thus, if saying you do not believe in the five doctrines mentioned above your Christianity is questionable.
If we look at the local church and the universal church we should look at it as Christ does: as a family of God. Within this “family” there are certain doctrines that theologians of different denominations can argue about, for instance: baptism, the primary function of the church, the order of services, as well as smaller issues like what type of instruments are allowed in worship.
The reality of how God made us is that every single one of us are unique, the same as in a normal family. But what makes us a family? Sharing a universal fact: The belief that Jesus Christ is God; that God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son and Holy Sprit are all equally God and is One; that God has authority and inspiration of the Scriptures; that all humans on earth are sinners in desperate need of saving from death and that we can only be saved from death by grace through Jesus Christ alone, because of the price He paid on the Cross for us.
Thus, would obedience to these 5 doctrines be an acceptable standard against which all group claiming to be part of the Christian Church may be measured? Yes, I strongly belief that they are an acceptable standard against which all groups claiming to be part of the Christian Church can be measured. There are however some doctrines that I would add as a personal conviction. These five doctrines combine the foundation on which the church is built upon.
Is it enough to define a church in terms of doctrines or should such things as practical expressions of Faith, Hope and Love form part of the requirement?
I want to start by looking at Faith, Hope and Love and what role it plays in the church and if doctrine can stand alone from them. The reality of all doctrine is that they are merely an interpretation of the scriptures. How we interpret the Word of God can easily be polluted by our history and background as a people.
When it comes to Faith, Hope and Love how can help to not think about 1 Corinthians 13:13 “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” These three play a crucial role in one’s relationship with Christ and Christianity. Especially love.
Consider Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:17-19 “..And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” This should grab our attention as it comes from one of the greatest theologians of all times
Doctrine Vs Practical expressions of Faith, Hope and Love.
One of the problems with doctrine in our age is the fact that a lot of doctrine is purely formed out of human point of view. This leads to the forming of “Christian” cults, for example the Mormons.
One of the Doctrines of the Mormons: Salvation
“Mormonism teaches that salvation is not a free gift of God, but something to be earned. A person may earn this salvation by believing in God, by receiving baptism by immersion, and then by fulfilling required works. Mormonism expressly rejects the doctrine of justification by faith alone. One of their “apostles,” James Talmage wrote, “The sectarian dogma of justification by faith alone has exercised an influence for evil since the early days of Christianity” (Articles of Faith, 1909,p.120)
Clearly this is not true if considering Eph2:8-10. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” The doctrine of Salvation can only be practised with the practical expression of faith. Christians believe in the doctrine of Salvation by grace through Christ alone. To qualify for salvation by grace one must belief in Christ and in the price He paid. If one argues that the doctrine of Salvation can stand apart from practical expression of faith, then I do know how that person got salvation without faith in Christ. We as Christian must believe we are saved by grace true Christ alone.
If Christians consider what Mormons believe, it is strange for us to think that anyone can be so misguided. For instance “Mormonism teaches its followers that they must do certain things to gain heaven. Since they reject the true Son of God, Jesus Christ, they can never have the assurance that they are saved by the love of God, revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Mormon church officially states: “The Purpose of Life” is the following: “All have the potential of eternal life, conditional upon individual worthiness and obedience to the Saviour’s ordinances and teachings” (Barry, Alvin L 2001:vii) Upon reading this, I ask myself where is the hope if you are left to gain heaven by your own works? 1 Peter 3:15 “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”. We are truly blessed as people by God that our only hope can be in Christ, not ourselves.
The reality of one minded, substandard doctrine alone is that it makes way for pressing down our own beliefs and understanding on others. In saying this I am not talking about solid scripture based doctrine, but doctrine like Joseph Smith Jr. and Brigham Young who built up doctrine for themselves and accepted these as ultimate. A sad reality in some churches in South Africa today is that they also built and formed their own doctrine that sometimes do even more damage than that of Mormonism.
I believe that these types of doctrines are formed when a person or people place there own belief system of personal conviction and traditions above God and His word. I do not believe it is healthy for doctrine to stand alone in terms of defining a Church. As mentioned earlier in Ephesians 3:17-19 we read that we must be established in the love of Christ. Love is God and God is love. 1 John 4:8 “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
In conclusion I think that structured doctrines in church are good and healthy. We serve a God of order and not chaos. However, I think that doctrine and the practical expression of Faith, Hope and Love should be in coexistence with each other.
Practical expression of faith, hope and love is part of God’s character and part of the DNA of the Christian Church and most definitely play a vital rol in defining the Christian Church.
Nowadays the church is often referred to as an “Army”. Consider this statement very carefully and comment on whether it is in harmony with Biblical understanding of the role and function of the church? What light do the Scriptures throw on this kind of Statement? Consider whether the purpose, role and function of the church are those of an army, and whether the “ROADS” concept fits into this teaching.
Church is often referred to as an Army. The first thing that comes to mind when I hear the word Army, is an autocratic General leading marching troops into battle; shouting sergeants and majors keeping troops in line. Is this really the way that scripture define the church, God and the way He leads the church? Let us consider a couple of models how scripture defines the church.
The Church as the Bride of Christ.
2 Corinthians 11:2-3 “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” When reading this passage, one can hear Paul as the concerned “father” of the bride which has been promised to the Groom, “Christ”. He is concerned with the purity of the bride, which in Bible times was in her celibacy and virginity. Paul is concerned that the church of Corinth will be tempted to be unfaithful to the Groom.
“In Ephesians 5:22–33 the relationship between Christ and his church is compared to the relationship between a husband and wife. The image is taken from the common understanding of the husband-wife relationship in that part of the world. The church’s submission to Christ is compared with the wife’s submission to the husband, but the focus of the passage is on the role of the husband: he is to love her “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” ( Baker Book House, 1988, S. 381) We know that Jesus Christ, out of love, came to earth to die for sins, so that the church can be cleansed, a pure bride.
The bride of Christ consists of all believers. The OT saints, the Jewish believers of the end time, the gentile believers of the Church Age, all the believers who have already died as well as the believers that are still on earth at the second coming of Jesus.
Considering the above, it is difficult to view the Church is an army. The church cannot be compared to a bride preparing herself for a relationship with a groom, where their relationship is likened to that of a soldier with his commander. The images “army” and “bride” don’t fit into the same metaphor.
The Church as the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
In the OT God’s presence was in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle, in the NT God’s presence was in the Lord Jesus Christ. Consider John1:14. In Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, God presented Himself through the Holy Sprit. Also consider 2 Corinthians 6:16 “What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Believers are filled with the Holy Spirit and thus act as the temple of God on earth. All believers form the corporate Church and thus the Temple of the Holy Spirit. The Oxford English dictionary defines a temple as “a building devoted to the worship of a god or gods”. When thinking of a temple of worship and closeness to God comes to mind, not the relationship between soldier and commander.
The Church as the Body of Christ.
When it comes to the body of Christ, a lot of confusion occurs with the metaphor of “a bride” and “the body” of Christ. To clarity this, one can simply say that the body of Christ consists of all believers that are alive today where as the bride of Christ consists of all believers that have lived and died from the beginning of time together with the believers that will still be alive at the second coming of Jesus.
Consider how amazing the human body has been made. Every large organ to tiny, single cell has a specific function. If the Church does not function as a healthy body in its individual parts, the overall body will suffer. 1 Corinthians 12: 24-27 “…But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” Here we see that God wants no division in the church, but equal concern for each other. The body of Christ is an organic unity which has to co-exist with each other.
In an army every one is not equal. There are certain people that are more important than others, but certain lives are replaceable. An army does not really function the same as a body: if one suffers it does not mean that all necessarily suffer.
The Church as the Household of God.
The church household as a model is one of my favourites because it portrays my image of God as ‘n loving Father. 1John3:1 “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” God is our Father and we are His children. 1Timothy 3:15 ” …you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” In any household there is a certain order and discipline like explained in Eph 5 and 6. But the basis of a household is love. A close family don’t function through fear, but rather through love and relationship. I do not think that the type of order and discipline in a household can be compared to that found in the military arena.
The purpose, role and function of the Church.
The purpose, role and function of the Church are a combination attributes of the entire model mentioned above. The “ROADS” concept is a great way to explain church as defined in Acts 2:42-47.
RELATIONSHIPS: with God and People (Mark12:30-31)
OUTREACH: To the unsaved dieing world.(Mark16:15)
ANOITING: Filled and lead by the Holy Sprit.(Mark16:17-18)
DOCTRINE: The Apostles teaching what is Biblically correct. (Matt24:5;11-13)
STRUCTURE: The Church must keep on meeting together as Scripture says.
In the words of Dr. C Peppler the church is intended to be “a people, bound together in the structural pattern given in the Word; growing in to the fullness of the Lord Jesus Christ and relationship with God the Father and each other; reaching out to the unsaved and bringing them into relationship through the anointing power given us by the Holy Spirit; directed and encompassed by sound Scriptural doctrine.” (C Peppler,THE1080,1997,44)
I think from a distance the church could look like it’s functioning as an army, but upon a closer look, this is not found to be true. If we consider each of the models discussed we clearly see that the church is not an army but a family. The battle is not for land, power or protection, but out of a love for God and a love for people. If we look at the scriptures we see that God is the head of the church and He is leading His people, but with love out of a relationship. The same way we can reach out to the lost world and teach true, solid biblical teaching, thus building His Church.
There is evidence in the modern church for both its body ministry and to the world to be organized and carried out by a small group of specialist people. Is this really the way it should be done? Consider 1) the life and teachings of Jesus Christ regarding church Organisation, and why this form needs to be followed; 2) the way church was practiced in the Book of Acts.
In considering this question, we must look at what Jesus taught about church and how it should function, as well as the model of the first church.
The life and teaching of Jesus Christ regarding church.
In the ministry Jesus I do not observe that Jesus gave as the example of choosing only specialist people to be used in ministry in church. I believe that Jesus picked normal people from all walks of live to help Him build his Church. In Matt 4:19 Jesus called two fishermen: Simon Peter and his brother Andrew. Later in Matt 16:18 Jesus says that He will build his church on Peter the rock. Then later in acts 2 Peter preached 3000 people were saved and baptised. We can look at all the disciple that Jesus picked they are all different.
It seems the one thing they had was willingness to follow Jesus and to learn from Him and be His disciples. I believe that is the reason why Jesus used them. It is indeed true that God gives gifts to people and call them to ministry. But the question is did He really call only a specialist elite few?
Consider Jesus’ last words before He ascended into heaven. (Math 8:19) Jesus gave this commission to all believers. He told the disciples to go and make more disciples of all the nations and teach them everything that Jesus taught. If Jesus believed that the ministry and the church should only be carried out by a specialist few, He would not have instructed the disciples to go to all the nations and make disciples. His instruction would be to go to a certain place and make certain people His disciples.
1 Peter 4:10-11 “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ”. Every believer has a role to play in ministry and in building the church, be it making disciples, be it washing floors, be it preaching. As long as we focus on the great commandment (loving God and loving people) and on the great commission (making disciples), then we will be living in the will of God. I believe there should be leadership and structure in how things should be dealt with. (Matt18:15-20) However, I do not think that Jesus through his life and teaching taught that we should leave the church for the world to organize it and that church should only be done by a small group of specialist people. Math 9:37 “Then he said to his disciples, the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.”
The way church was practiced in the Book of Acts
In the very beginning of the book of Acts we read that the 11 disciples were considering replacing the position of Judas. We read that the disciples had a rather shocking approach towards the two prospecting candidates, Joseph and Matthias. They prayed and asked God to show them which of the two should take the place of Judas. They cast the lot which fell on Matthias, who was then added to the 11 apostles (Acts1:23-26).
We see that it was left up to the elders of the church to decide who would fill Judas’ position. Imagine if the modern church were to organize and carry out ministry at the hand of only a small group of specialist people. One can easily question the way that Matthias was chosen over Joseph by the apostles, the very people that walked with Jesus for three years.
In Acts 6, seven men were selected to administer care for the widows. Once again we see the criteria is not if they are specialists but rather people that are filled with the Sprit and have wisdom. The choice was left up to fellow believers, not even the elders or apostles. Acts 6:3-4 “Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” Then in verse 7 we see what the fruit was based on the choice that was made. Acts 6:7 “So disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith”. Here we see that the number of disciples increased rapidly. So if the choice was wrong would there be a growth in the church and would even the priest be saved?
The church of Acts was lead by elders and they played a vital role: Acts 20:28 “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood”. In this passage Paul wrote to the elder of Ephesians. However, if there were only elders in the church, where will the church be if the elders never made disciples or let the flock discover the role in the church and how would they choose the new elder and leaders.
We can see that from the beginning of the early church in Acts, the leaders made choices about whom to use in ministry. What supported the choice they made? Was it that these people had years of study and working experience in church? No, it was the people that were Sprit filled and had a willingness to serve other people out of love for God for people.
If the church, in its function of ministry to the body and to the world, had to be organized and carried out by a small group of specialist people, then this would disqualify most of the disciples that walked with Jesus. The disciples were not schooled in the law nor were they “Rabbis”.This criteria would also disqualify most of our early church fathers, as well as most believers. Sadly, it would also disqualify the very people making the statement as their criteria of a specialist would most certainly differ from God’s criteria.
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