May 1, 2012

The Doctrine of the Church


A.    Definition, nature, and "marks" of the church
I believe the church is all of those people who have been bought by Christ and therefore belong to the Lord. Although the church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic, it will visibly be a mixed body until the Lord returns. I affirm the marks of a true church are that God’s Word is preached, the ordinances are administered, and church discipline is exercised.
B.    The purposes of the church
I believe the church exists to: worship God (Col 3:16), nurture believers (Col 1:28), and minister to the world through gospel proclamation (Matt 28:19) and acts of mercy (Lk 6:35-36). All of these things are important and the church must keep them in a healthy balance.
C.    The purity and unity of the church  
I believe there are less pure and more pure churches (for example, the Philippians as  compared to the Corinthians). The more a church is in line with God’s word on matters of doctrine and conduct, the more pure it is and vice versa. Churches should strive for more purity (Eph 5:26-27). I also believe that the less divided true Christians are, then the church is more unified. Jesus wants believers to be in unity (Jn 10:16; 17:21, 23). Christians are to be separate from unbelievers and egregious heretics (2 Jn 10; 2 Cor 6:14, 17).
D.    The power of the church             
I believe Scripture teaches that the church has certain power; this power is ordained by God. God gives his church the authority to wage warfare in the spiritual realm (2 Cor 10:3-4; Eph 6:10-18), as well as preach the gospel and carry out proper church discipline (Matt 16:16-19).
1.       Spiritual power       
Part of the church’s spiritual power is that in its proclamation of the gospel, the Holy Spirit will work with the message sent to break open rebellious hearts and lead them to repentance (Rom 10:17). Another key realm of spiritual power is that the church has been given the ability to battle against the demonic realm and be victorious (Acts 13:10-11; 16:18).
2.       Church and state
The church is not to “take up the sword” in its effort to spread the gospel (Jn 18:36; 2 Cor 10:4). However, God has wisely ordained that the government has the power of the sword (Rom 13:1-7) and can enforce legislation (Matt 22:21; Lk 12:13-14). Christians are not obligated to obey civil laws which would force them to disobey God (Acts 5:27-29).
3.    Church discipline            
The local church has both the authority and responsibility to enact church discipline for members. This should be done in accordance with Matthew 18:15-20. Church discipline may include excommunication or disfellowshipping (1 Cor 5:4-5, 12; 2 Thess 3:6). Church discipline has the purposes of limiting harm from sin, healing and restoring, and protecting the purity of the church.
E.    Church officers and church government      
I believe the only church offices valid for today are elders and deacons, as no one living can qualify to be an apostle. Elders and deacons are both church officers and church officers are those who have been validated as being responsible to minister in ways that serve the whole church (Heb 13:17; Eph 4:11; 1 Tim 3:8-13).
1.       Forms of church government
I believe the New Testament for the church is that it is to be lead at a local level by a plurality of elders, with deacons ministering in a serving role (Acts 14:23; 20:17; Titus 1:5; 1 Tim 4:14; Jas 5:14; 1 Pet 5:1-2; Phil 1:1). I believe no other model of church government conforms to the pattern laid out in the New Testament. 
2.       Parachurch organizations    
The term as well as the concept of a parachurch organization is laden with potential problems. As a group made up of born-again Christians, they cannot actually be outside the church but only a distinct part of the one true catholic church (Eph 4:4-6).
3.    Women and church government
I affirm that both men and women are gifted by the Holy Spirit for service in the church (Acts 2:17-18). I further affirm the office of elder (or pastor) is only open to men who are qualified (1 Cor 14:34-35; 1 Tim 2:11-15; 3:2-7; Titus 1:6-9). I am currently uncertain as to whether qualified women may serve as deacons, as I am still studying the relevant passages (Rom 16:1; 1 Tim 3:8-13, especially verse 11). I believe Christians can charitably disagree on both of these issues.
F.    The "means of grace" (in general)  
Within the church there are special blessings God has given us: these we call the means of grace of the church. Traditionally, Protestant theologians have focused on three: the two sacraments and the preaching of the Word. Others could be included, though: prayer, church discipline, worship, giving, spiritual gifts, fellowship and personal ministry.
G.   Ordinances (or sacraments)
Ordinances (or sacraments) are ceremonies or rituals that we are commanded to do by Jesus. They provide a special blessing to God’s people, although they do not impart merit to those involved. The two ordinances are baptism and communion (The Lord’s Supper).
1.       Baptism
Disciples of Jesus are to be baptized (Matt 28:18-20). I believe the biblical mode of baptism is full immersion (Mk 1:10; Jn 3:23) and this should only be administered to those who make a credible profession of faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 2:41; 8:12, 36-39; Gal 3:27). Baptism symbolizes - but does not impart - new birth, the cleansing of sins, and being buried and raised with Christ (Rom 6:3-4; Col 2:12; Titus 3:5; Acts 22:16).
2.       The Lord's Supper  
The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Christ as a memorial to his sacrificial and atoning death (Matt 26:26-30; Mk 14:22-26; Lk 22:14-20). My current understanding is that Christ is present to bless in a real (but not physical) way at His table. Communion also pictures “soul nourishment” and our union with Christ - as well as our unity with other believers. Communion is limited to believers (Acts 2:41-42; 1 Cor 11:28), should be done frequently (1 Cor 11:24-26), and should be given in the context of a local church setting (Acts 20:7).
H.   Worship
Worship is when we give homage and a proper response to God’s grace and worthiness with our hearts and mouths (Col 3:16; Eph 5:19). When we worship, we honor and glorify God. Worship brings us great joy and increases our intimacy with God (Lk 1:46-47; Jn 4:23; Jas 4:8).
I.        Spiritual gifts in the church
Spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit and are designed to glorify God and build up the whole church. God gives them as his will (Rom 12:6-8; 1 Cor 12:11). They are a blessing for us and others (1 Cor 12:7; 14:12, 26). All gifts are to be practiced with others in mind and must be used the way God instructs us to organize our meetings, for example (1 Cor 14:26-33).

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