What is the Church?
I greet you in the wonderful name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
What is the Church?
This is a substitute for the real thing this morning. We are not able to gather because of the coronavirus and the lockdown in South Africa. And so, whilst we can't gather to sing God's Word, can't gather to hear God's Word, can't gather to see God's Word in the ordinances of Baptism of the Lord's Supper, can't gather to give thanks to God with our gifts and offerings, can't gather for all of those things. But what we can do, is be devoted to the apostles’ teaching, using this medium in order to transfer God's Word out.
This isn't going to be an expository sermon. That's the way that we would normally teach on a Sunday at Crystal Park Baptist Church. Instead, I'm going to talk about the church. It's my heart's desire over these next three weeks, over these next three Sundays, where we can't be in one another's company that God would stir our hearts that we would realize what we are missing out on, and that we would yearn to return to the Gathering when the curfew’s lifted. The bottom line is, I hope that this teaching touches you and that it ignites your mind and engages your mind. That it stirs your heart and call your affections up. I also Hope that it engages with you, that your life might be conformed to God's Word and that you might desire to be obedient to God's Word as your will is called upon.
Today we're going to really ask the question, ‘What is the church?’ To begin, we want to draw a distinction between the universal church and the local church. The word church comes from the Greek word: Ecclesia. Ecclesia as a compound word. It's made up of two words; out and called. And so it literally means the called out ones, but it carries with it the sense of those who gather, of those who assemble, of those who meet together. The word appears a 113 times in the Christian Standard Bible, the Bible that I read from. A handful of times, it's talking about the universal church. So for example, when Jesus Christ says, “I will build my church”, that's talking about a universal church and I'll explain what that means shortly. Another few times, once or twice, it’s talking about the church in a region. So for example, when the letter is written to the church in Galatia, Galatia is a Province rather than a city or a local church. But the vast majority of times that the word church is used in our New Testament, it is referring to the local church.
Let me give you definitions for the universal church and the local church. The universal church is all believers throughout all of time in every place. The local church is a specific group of Believers, presently committed to one another and meeting at a designated place. So really the question, ‘What is the church?’ as I'm going to be answering it this morning is, is what is a local church. What is a local church? And why is this question so relevant right now?
What is the Local Church?
Well as I've been looking at social media both, comments and posts, I have noticed and uncoupling of individuals from the collective. What I mean is, it's as if you as an individual are the local church quite apart from any other members of the local church. I can understand why this is happening because on the one hand, it is true that the church is not a building. It is made up of its people and also each individual person is a representative of the local church. So I could say, I attend Crystal Park Baptist Church or I'm a member of Crystal Park Baptist Church, but an individual alone isn't the church.
In some ways the church with a local or universal, is a collective noun. So we might say, a single bee isn't a swarm alone, a lone wolf isn't a pack, a solitary ant isn't a colony and you by yourself without any other people are not the Church! So, we're in lockdown and we can't gather, at least not physically and so naturally, questions are asked such as, “Is a stream service on Facebook of a Pastor in his lounge with his laptop on his lap a church service? Should we have communion in our homes while we are in lockdown? What I'm hoping as we answer the question, ‘What is the church?’ that your heart will be stirred and that you will realize what you're missing out on during this lockdown period and makes you yearn to return to the gathering when the curfew is lifted.
I want to give a definition of the local church that we can use to work through over the next period of time as we investigate what the local church is.
The first definition is the one that I gave at the beginning that a local church has a specific group of Believers presently committed to one another and meeting at a designated place. The second definition that I'd like to give you as an ancient definition. It's one that came out of the Reformation. We call it the Belgic Confession and it was written in 1561. Article 29 of the Belgic Confession reads: “If pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if it maintains the pure administration of the sacrament instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing sin,” that's what the reformers really explain the local church as.
What I'm going to use as we go through this teaching on what is a local church. Here is a definition given by Jonathan Leeman who rights for 9Marks. Jonathan says, “A local church is a group of Christians, who regularly gather in Christ's name, to officially affirm and oversee one another's membership in Jesus Christ and His Kingdom, through gospel preaching and gospel ordinances.”
Let's now look at the first part of that definition. What’s a local church? That a local church is a group of Christians.
1. A Group of Christians
At the point of Salvation we are grafted into the universal church. That is, that group of all believers that body of all believers throughout all of time and in every place. A local churches to be a manifestation of that body. It is to be a reflection of the universal body, that in a time we are grafted into. The word church first appears in Matthew 16:18, where Jesus Christ says, “and I also say unto you that you are Peter and on this rock, I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” The rock is Peter's confession, which he had just made a few verses earlier. Peter had said in verse 16, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” The church began on the day of Pentecost, 50 days after the Passover where Christ had died and risen again. On the day of Pentecost a crowd had gathered. They had heard the gospel Proclamation that Jesus died for their sins and that He rose from the grave and that all men everywhere must repent for the forgiveness of sins and, they did in great numbers.
In Acts 2:41, we read that those who accepted his message, were baptized that day about 3000 people were added to them. They were added because they stood on that Rock on their confession that Peter had made, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God. It's really important to note that those who were added were those who had been baptized, and those who have been baptized, are those who had believed. No one was added that hadn't been baptized and no one was baptized that hadn't believed. A local church is to be a group of Christians.
2. A Group of Christians who regularly gather in His Name
A local church is to be a group of Christians who regularly gather. Straight after verse 41 in chapter 2, we have the account of the early Church in Jerusalem. After the Believers had believed, after they had been baptized, after they had been added to the church, we read that they are devoted to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Just on those four items, we can pull out three things that they were devoted to. They were devoted to the apostles’ teaching, which is Biblical Teaching. We need to attend church so that we can be taught the Word of God for our own spiritual growth. We can see that they were devoted to Fervent Worship. They were devoted to the breaking of bread and to prayer. We need to attend church so that we can worship God together. This is the Saints example and this is God's will for us.
They were devoted to the Fellowship. The Fellowship is describe all over in the New Testament as the one another's. There are 59 one another's in God's Word. Examples would include: being at peace with one another, wash one another's feet, be devoted to one another, honour one another, live in harmony with one another, accept one another, instruct when another, greet one another with a holy kiss four times in God's Word be patient with one another, submit to one another, consider one another better, teach one another, admonish one another, you get the point, on and on and on… 15 times were told to Love one another. Lastly, in the final verse of chapter 2, the Lord added daily those who have been saved. We need to attend church because the church is God's vehicle for the proclamation of the Gospel. Church attendance is not just a good suggestion, it is God's command to Believers. In Hebrews 10:25, we read that we are not to neglect gathering together, as some are in the habit of doing. But to encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching. Even in the early church, some were falling into the bad habit of not meeting with other believers. We need to encourage and be encouraged by the church by attendance that affords. Even more so as we see the end times approaching. Local churches to be a group of Christians. Those who regularly gather!
3. A group of Christians who are really clearly gather in Christ's name to officially affirm and oversee one another's membership.
A local church is to be a group of Christians who are really clearly Gather in Christ's name to officially affirm and oversee one another's membership. The Bible does not directly address the concept of formal children membership. But there are several passages which require a mechanism for formalized organization. We have spoken a lot about Acts chapter 2 verse 41, but along the same lines of being added, we read in Acts chapter 2 verse 47 that every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Somebody was keeping a numeric record of those who were being saved and those who had been joining the church. Keeping a church membership role is just adhering to the biblical record, which we have.
In Acts chapter 6 verse 3, we have some kind of election happening in the Jerusalem Church. We read that they selected from amongst them certain people and it suggests that a group of People were distinct from others who are not among them. The Servants of Acts 6 were church members. Hebrews 13:17 instructs, “Obey your leaders and submit to them since they keep watch over your souls as those who give an account,” Who is your pastor accountable for, except for those who have been entrusted to him? The members of the church. He isn't responsible for Every Christian in the entire world and in the same way. He's not responsible for everyone who claims to be a believer in the community he serves, but only those who have committed to the church which has been entrusted to serve.
Let me give you a very practical example of what I mean when I say that the Pastor is responsible for a particular type of people. I've had to set up a studio at home for the next while.
In it, I need to have a Bible stand so that I can have my Bible near and ready to me. I need to have a place where I can keep notes that I'm preaching from or speaking from available to me. I need to have some lighting and some sound and obviously a camera but the other thing which was important to me as I set up a studio at home, was this [moves camera around the studio]. What you have seen in the studio, is that there is the Bible, some lighting and if we go around here, you will see the notes that I was speaking about them a stand. If you come back here, you will see the 126 members of Crystal Park Baptist Church. They need to be near to my mind as I'm preaching because they need to be on my heart because ultimately everything that I'm doing is ultimately to serve God as I serve them.
In 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, “but pay particular attention to verses 12 and 13. We read, “For what business is it of mine to judge outsiders? Don’t you judge those who are inside? God judges outsiders. Remove the evil person from among you. We are to judge those who are inside the church, the church members. How else can we know who's inside the church and outside the church without an official membership role? A local church is a group of Christians who regularly gather in Christ's name to officially affirm and oversee one another's membership in Jesus Christ and His kingdom through gospel preaching.
4. A group of Christians who are really clearly gather in Christ's name to officially affirm and oversee one another's membership in Jesus Christ and his Kingdom through gospel preaching.
What do I mean when I say gospel preaching? Let me start by telling you what I don't mean. Gospel preaching is not trampoline preaching. In trampoline preaching, the speaker jumps from the text to what he really wants to say. God's Word doesn't determine the thrust and the direction of the sermon as much as the preachers own points of view, opinions and feelings. The text is just there in order to make whatever he has to say sound Christianised.
When I'm talking about Gospel Preaching, I'm also not talking about Legalistic Preaching. Legalistic Preaching emphasizes what we must do to please God. It will sound like: Slaying the Giants of your life, or Seven Tips for Successful Marriage or Three Keys to Financial Freedom. The reality is, these sermons are all about human action. They're all about you. You are the hero, but I'm talking about Gospel Preaching.
I'm also not talking about lecturing. It is not a theological knowledge dump on the audience. The congregation becomes lost in all the Greek words and big theological phrases in a in a sea of confusion. Gospel Preaching is Bible Preaching. Gospel Preaching is Expository Preaching. Expository Preaching is when we make the main point of the passage of Scripture, the main point of our sermon and then apply that into the lives of the hearers. Then, let me tell you what some other men have defined expository preaching as:
“Expository Preaching is preaching in which the main point of the biblical text being considered becomes the main point of the sermon being preached.” that's in the words of Mark Dever.
“Preaching is theology coming through a man who's on fire and is the chief end of preaching is to give men and women a sense of God and his presence. - Martin Lloyd-jones.
“The message finds its sole source and scripture. The message is extracted from scripture through careful exegesis. The message preparation correctly interprets scripture in its normal sense and its context. The message clearly explains the original God intended meaning of Scripture. The message applies the scriptural meaning for today.” - John MacArthur.
A local church is a group of Christians who regularly gather in Christ's name, to officially affirm and oversee one another's membership in Jesus Christ in his Kingdom, through gospel preaching and finally through gospel ordinances.
5. What are the Ordinances?
There are two Ordinances that Jesus Christ commanded his church to keep: The Lord's supper and Baptism. The Lord's Supper is the re-enactment that we go through of the final Passover which Jesus shared with his disciples and when he told them that they were to do this in remembrance of Him. We eat the bread and we drink of the cup, remembering the death of Jesus Christ, and that Jesus Christ will come again in Glory. It is an opportunity for the many in the room, all the Believers in the room, to be joined to the one to be joined to Jesus Christ as the head and also to be united together in common union (communion) of the Saints.
The second ordinance is Baptism. Baptism is when a person who’s professed Jesus Christ as their Lord and their Saviour, in obedience to Him, not as a step of salvation, but as an act of obedience. Going through the waters of baptism symbolises being united with Christ, metaphorically in His death, burial and resurrection. It also symbolises being united with the church. It is when the one one is united to the many. When one saint is united with all the saints. That is pictured in the waters of baptism.
The local church is a group of Christians who regularly Gather in Christ's name to officially affirm and oversee one another's membership in Jesus Christ and his kingdom through gospel preaching and gospel ordinances.
Now, let me tell you why I can't wait to get back to church. As I think through what the church is. I recognize that this is not church. That my heart is stirred for something more. I realized that these something that I am missing out on. I'm yearning to return to the people that I love and I hope that you do too. Because I love biblical teaching. I love sitting under the reading of God's Word. I love it when I hear Randy's booming voice, or Andy, or Chris reading from God's Word as we stand in reverence for God's Word. I want to get back to that. I want to get back to expository preaching as myself or Tshepo, or any one of the other preachers in our church stand before the church and boldly Proclaim Jesus Christ is revealed. Through his scriptures. I want to get back to that. I want to get back to Fervent Worship. I long to sing together with the Saints with tears in my eyes as Warren leads us or Stuart leads us.
I long for fellowship with the Saints. I want hug Molly. I want to laugh with Brian or with Marco outside. I want be with the Believers, loving one another, and submitting to one another, and encouraging one another. That's what I long for. I long for passionate evangelism as God uses our church to reach a dying World. Friends, I hope that that's what stirs your heart. I hope that that's what you realize you missing out on in the next three weeks. I hope that that is what you yearn for as we return in three weeks’ time. May God bless you! Let me close in a world of prayer.
Father God in heaven, I do ask that even as we hear the scriptures that relate to your church, that You will encourage us, exhort us and move us toward gathering together, assembling together, meeting together once again, in three weeks’ time, that You would be glorified through Your church. A Crystal Park, and this ask, in The Wonderful Name of Jesus Christ our Lord and our Saviour. Amen. May God richly bless you!