Archives For The Church

J. I. Packer and the Church

Greg Strand – January 16, 2016 Leave a comment

J.I. Packer, just short of 90, has reached the end of his writing and speaking ministry. He recently suffered from macular degeneration to the point that he cannot see: J. I. Packer, 89, On Losing Sight, But Seeing Christ

Hearing how someone processes such changes, while trusting in the good, wise providence of God is an encouragement. It also serves as a model (1 Cor. 11:1) of how we ought to age as Christians (2 Cor. 4:16-18). There is, indeed, much about this interview I greatly appreciate, much of it focused on the sanctifying effect of godly disciplines engaged in for a life which produces the sanctifying fruit of the Spirit resulting in a godly life, which is evidenced, by God’s grace, in Packer’s life. There is a sweet aroma of Christ in and around Packer.

In light of our upcoming Theology Conference on the church, I appreciated Packer’s response to the question regarding the Young, Restless, Reformed movement, and his corrective statement of the necessity of becoming corporate in our emphasis rather than just individual. He rightly and helpfully distinguishes between individualism and individuality. Packer notes, “Remember that what God plans—what the whole economy of grace is shaped for—is the perfection of a church that will be the bride of Christ and, in a grand sense, the image of Christ. . . . Individualism, no. Churchliness, yes.”

His corrective parallels our final statement in Article 1 on God in our Statement of Faith: “Having limitless knowledge and sovereign power, God has graciously purposed from eternity to redeem a people for Himself and to make all things new for His own glory.” (emphasis mine).

Here are the questions to and responses from Packer:

How do you evaluate the Young, Restless, Reformed, and what word of encouragement and exhortation would you offer this fledgling movement?

Remember that what God plans—what the whole economy of grace is shaped for—is the perfection of a church that will be the bride of Christ and, in a grand sense, the image of Christ. And God is not in the business of individualism. There is a distinction that not all evangelicals pick up between individualism and individuality. Being a Christian ripens and extends your individuality, but individualism is a form of sin and, it seems to me, still a temptation for the Young, Restless, Reformed folk. The vital movements of Reformed Christianity—with their rediscovery of the doctrines of grace and the life of grace—all of that needs to have the individualism squeezed out of it, and as the movement matures that’s what’s going to happen. The folk involved in these movements need to be very clear all the time that God’s purpose is a church that celebrates his glory. If for the moment we are giving our time non-churchly or trans-denominational movements, well, that should be seen as step, a venture, towards churchliness rather than towards individualism. Individualism, no. Churchliness, yes.

Overall, would you say you’re encouraged?

Yes, I don’t see how any Christian under any circumstances can’t be encouraged who focuses on God. I don’t see how any Christian can be discouraged, because God is in charge—God knows what he’s doing, all things work together for good for those are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28), and our hope is in Christ. Those things don’t change, and those are the things to focus on.

Going back to the centrality of the church, I suppose the Puritans are instrumental in bringing back our attention to the church.

The Puritans were churchly to their finger tips. They were intensely individuals. They made as much of Christian individuality as any community of believers have ever done, I think. But they were churchly. It was all for building up the church as the body of Christ and as the goal of all of God’s purposes of grace. I still think we need to learn that—and learn it for the first time, perhaps.

The great thing, which the Puritans saw as central, is communion with God, which they understood as communion with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They weren’t marked by the imbalance that you so often see even among Puritans supporters these days—I mean, people focusing on Christ to the exclusion of the Spirit, or on the Spirit to the exclusion of Christ.

The Puritans, I think, were wonderfully balanced. Their published work expresses it and is very maturing. There is the same relation to the goal of godliness as proper coaching, physical training, is to producing a player who is in full physical shape for the role that he is called to play.

The Church: The Gospel Made Visible

danirichards – December 15, 2015 Leave a comment

As you consider doctrines of importance, which ones do you include in the “utmost importance” list? Theology – the doctrine of God. Christology – the doctrine of Christ. Anthropology and Hamartiology – the doctrine of man and sin. Ecclesiology – the doctrine of the church.

How many of you would have included the last one in your list? My guess is that not many consider the doctrine of the church to be of utmost importance. For Free Church pastors and leaders, if this is the case not only would this be tragic, but it would belie the fact that we are a gospel-centered people in a gospel-centered movement.

Because we affirm, proclaim and live the gospel of Jesus Christ, we acknowledge the importance of the church because it is important to Christ, who died to purchase people for himself. And he is the Head over this new community, the church. Furthermore, the gospel that creates the church that joyfully lives under the Lordship and Headship of Jesus Christ, now proclaims the gospel, and through their corporate life together they manifest the gospel. That is, “the church is the gospel made visible.”

Here is how Mark E. Dever, “The Church,” in A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel L. Akin (B&H, 2007), 766-767, writes of this vital truth.  

“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. A distorted church usually coincides with a distorted gospel. . . . This is not to say that all differences in ecclesiology are tantamount to differences over the gospel itself.”

“Perhaps the popular disinterest in ecclesiology results from the understanding that the church itself is not necessary for salvation. Cyprian of Carthage may have said, ‘No one can have God for his father, who has not the church for his mother,’ but few would agree with this sentiment today. . . . 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.”

”However, the church should be regarded as important to Christians because of its importance to Christ. Christ founded the church (Matt. 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 (Eph. 1:23; 4:12; 5:23-32; Col. 1:18,24; 3:15; 1 Cor. 12:12-27), the dwelling place of his Spirit (Rom. 8:9,11,16; 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 6:11,15-17; Eph. 2:18,22; 4:4), and the 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 (Rev. 5:9).”

“Present-day errors in the understanding and the practice of the church will, if they prevail, still 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 gospel made visible. 

At our upcoming Theology Conference on The Doctrine of the Church, we will focus on this doctrine which is of utmost importance. If you believe that, come and be encouraged and challenged more deeply regarding this truth. If you do not believe this, you need to attend all the more. Please register and plan to join us!

 

The Gospel Creates a Gospel Community

Greg Strand – December 10, 2015 Leave a comment

How necessary or essential is the community of the redeemed to the gospel? How significant is it that the gospel that is foundational to the new birth results in a new community?

None of us would conclude the gospel is nice but not essential. All would conclude it is absolutely essential. What about the new community, the redeemed people of God who become part of the church? Is that necessary, or is it optional? Is it connected to the gospel, and if so, in what way?

Trevin Wax argues, and I believe rightly, that if you excise the redeemed community from the gospel, you then gut the gospel of its very purpose. He gives a rationale of “Why the Gospel Community is Essential to Understanding the Gospel.” Although the new community of God’s people is not the gospel, it is connected to the gospel.

“If you excise the gospel community from your thinking about the gospel announcement, you gut the gospel of its purpose. Though the church is not the subject of the gospel announcement (Christ alone is the subject, of course), the church is a necessary object. Christ’s death has a purpose: to save sinners and incorporate them into a community that reflects His glory.”

“the gospel has a telos – the purpose of calling out a people, which is why I want to keep “gospel community” close to the announcement. I fear that most evangelicals see the church as ‘just an implication of the gospel’ instead of thinking, This is the whole point of the good news – God forming a people for His glory and the good of the world.”

“The gospel announcement of Jesus Christ must be understood within the context of the story that gives it meaning. This announcement then births the gospel community. Saying the good news is limited to the gospel announcement is like saying, “The good news is that the adoption papers are signed” without a view to the purpose of the papers – to incorporate an orphan into a family! We can say all day long that becoming part of the family is the implication of the adoption process, not the process itself. But to make that point too forcefully risks losing the point of it all.

“Christ’s death and resurrection completes the transaction of the gospel, yes. But the purpose of Christ’s work is that, in union with Him, we would be reconciled to the Father and adopted into His family.”

“Good news all around! So, let’s make sure that in our thinking and speaking about the centrality of the gospel announcement we not leave out the gospel-formed family. Otherwise, we gut the gospel of its purpose.”

The doctrine of salvation has been central to the free church movement, not just the EFCA, but the doctrine of the church less so. Although these two doctrines are not one and the same, they are organically connected. Because we are a gospel-centered people in the Free Church, we need to understand the gospel’s implication as it relates to the church, and the church as she relates to the gospel. Now is the time for Free Church people to focus on ecclesiology.

There is much more learning and discussing we need to do in the Free Church regarding these important matters. Please plan to join us for our upcoming Theology Conference on The Doctrine of the Church. Please register here.

Viewing the Church Through the Gospel

Greg Strand – December 3, 2015 Leave a comment

Edmund P. Clowney, The Church (IVP, 1995), 72-73, encourages us to understand the church through the gospel. This is right, since the gospel creates the church, and the church, in turn, proclaims and manifests the gospel. Furthermore, Clowney concludes that it is only through the gospel that we understand how the various descriptions of the church fit together. (I have edited this one long paragraph to emphasize the various truths Clowney highlights.)

Viewing the church in terms of the gospel helps us to see how the various descriptions fit together.

The church is apostolic, because it is founded on the apostolic gospel and called to fulfill the apostolic mission.

The holiness of the church means that life, as well as truth, marks Christ’s church; the behavior of Christians in the world must be remarkable enough to cause grudging admiration, astonished curiosity or threatening hostility (1 Pet. 2:12; 3:16; Jn. 15:18).

The unity of the church requires a new community, joined in a common faith and life.

The catholic character of the church flows from the fact that the church is a colony of heaven; it cannot conform to the social castes and sectarian goals that divide a fallen world, for it is the beginning of the new humanity in Christ.

The heavenly definition of the church explains the contrasts of its existence in time (militant/triumphant) and space (local/universal), as well as the perspectives of earth and heaven (visible/invisible). 

The distinction between the church as organization and organism describes how the church is to live in both the ardour and the order of the Spirit.

In our upcoming Theology Conference on The Doctrine of the Church, we will look, learn and discuss this truth and a whole lot more. Please register and plan to join us!

 

 

The theme of our upcoming Theology Conference is The Doctrine of the Church. As you think about this important doctrine, I encourage you to read carefully what follows. I include Article 7 of our Statement of Faith on The Church. I then include pertinent excerpts from Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America which espouse this vital doctrine.  

EFCA Article 7: The Church  

7. We believe that the true church comprises all who have been justified by God’s grace through faith alone in Christ alone. They are united by the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ, of which He is the Head. The true church is manifest in local churches, whose membership should be composed only of believers. The Lord Jesus mandated two ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which visibly and tangibly express the gospel. Though they are not the means of salvation, when celebrated by the church in genuine faith, these ordinances confirm and nourish the believer. God’s gospel is now embodied in the new community called the church. 

God’s gospel is now embodied in the new community called the church. 

What follows is an excerpt from Article 7, The Church, from Evangelical Convictions. I encourage you to read this carefully, for this is what we affirm we believe about the doctrine of the church. In essence, the gospel creates the church. The church proclaims and manifests the gospel. The church, indeed, is an embodiment of the gospel. 

The Gospel and the Church 

“But God in his grace has purposed to restore his fallen creation and to redeem a people for himself. In Jesus Christ God has acted to rescue sinful human beings from his wrath and to reconcile them to himself. This work of Christ in his cross and resurrection is now applied to us by the Holy Spirit, who unites us with Christ so that what is true of him becomes true of us. And in uniting us with Christ, the Spirit also creates a new community we call the church. The church, as those saved by God’s grace and united with Christ by God’s Spirit, becomes the embodiment of the gospel in the world.” 

The True Church

“First, the Bible speaks of the church as the totality of all those united with Christ by faith, resulting in a new standing before God and a new relationship with one another. In this sense, Paul can say that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25) and that Christ is the Savior of “the church” (Eph. 5:23; cf. also 1:22-23). We refer to this as the “true” church, for it is a community ultimately known only to God, for only God can know the depths of the human heart. Only he can perceive with absolute certainty whether the faith that is professed is truly believed. We may consider the composition of the true church from two perspectives.”  

The true church comprises all who have been justified by God’s grace through faith alone in Christ alone.  

The true church comprises those united by the Spirit into the body of Christ of which he is the Head 

The Local Church: A Visible Community Manifesting the True Church in the World  

“One can speak of the church as a body known only to God, for in an ultimate sense only God knows those who are truly his. But generally in the New Testament, the church refers to a community visible in the world. And though the term can refer to the community of Christians within a large geographical area, it more commonly denotes a local gathering of believers in one place. Here in this local network of relationships the gospel is embodied in the world and worked out in our lives.”  

“This community of Christians in the local church is a microcosm of the universal church. In that sense, the local body is not simply a part of the whole, but a manifestation of the whole, encapsulating in itself its essential qualities as a community of believers redeemed by the blood of Christ. Paul can speak both of all Christians constituting the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23) and of a local community as that same body (1 Cor. 12:27). In each local church Christ is present (Matt. 18:20), and in the love displayed in its midst (cf. John 13:35; 17:20-22) and in the quality of the lives of its members living in the world (cf. Matt. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:9-12), each local church is to demonstrate to the world something of the truth and beauty of the gospel of Christ.”

“Because the local church is to manifest the true church in the world, the essential requirement for membership in each should be the same—a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ5 . Therefore, we affirm that membership in the local church should be composed only of believers, regenerated by the Holy Spirit.”

The Church and the Gospel

The “God’s gospel is now embodied in the new community called the church. This means not only that the gospel creates the church, but also that the church proclaims the gospel. And the church proclaims the gospel not simply in what the church is called to do , but in what the church is.”

“The church is the centerpiece of God’s purposes for humanity. For the promise of the gospel is that God will redeem a people composed of those from every nation, tribe, people and language who will find their unity solely in their common relationship with Jesus Christ as they are united to him by the Spirit (cf. Rev. 5:9; 7:9). And it is in the church that this people-to-come is now being made visible to the world.

“In a sense, in the church the gospel message finds its initial realization. Paul in Ephesians 2:11-3:13 describes the creation of the one new humanity united in Christ as the purpose of God in all ages now revealed: “[God’s] intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:10-11).

“In this way, the church is the “first fruits” of what is to come. As one writer put it, “The church does communicate to the world what God plans to do, because it shows that God is beginning to do it.” In Christ a new age has dawned, and the church is to be an anticipatory presence of that new age and an initial signpost of its coming.”

The church is not just the bearer of the message of reconciliation, the church is a part of the message itself. The church’s existence as a community reconciled to God and to one another is what gives the message its credibility, for such a community is itself the manifestation of the gospel it proclaims. Jesus said as much. In speaking to the Father of his disciples in John 17, Jesus prayed, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (17:22-23). One way the gospel is to be declared to the world is through the loving unity of Christians.  

The church is to be a provisional expression of that new humanity united in Christ which God has graciously purposed to create for his own glory. So the church is missional in its very nature—who we are is an important part of our proclamation of the gospel to the world. For God’s gospel is embodied in this new community called the church. 

If this is so, then shouldn’t every Christian be a committed member of a church? If you believe, then you must belong. Many still persist in church hopping, always searching for something that might satisfy their desires. Evidently this is not a new problem, for a colleague of Martin Luther in the sixteenth century, Philip Melanchthon, made this remark: “Let us not praise those tramps who wander around and unite with no church, because they nowhere find their ideals realized [because] something is always lacking.” We must not be church dabblers. We must dig in and discover the riches that can be had as we live out God’s purpose in real fellowship in the life of a local church. For without a commitment to the local church, we haven’t rightly understood God’s gospel.

Theology Conference

In our upcoming Theology Conference on The Doctrine of the Church, we will look, learn and discuss this truth and a whole lot more. We will not only learn about the doctrine of the church generally, but we will also discuss its implication for local EFC churches and the EFCA as a denomination. Please register and plan to join us!