Building Relationships for Christ

As human beings you have been created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27) and if you know Christ as Savior you are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). As a Christian you are a child of God (Eph. 1:5) and an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-20). You are a part of God’s plan to reconcile mankind to Himself. You take part in this plan as you reflect Christ’s Lordship and grace in your life, and as you share the gospel of Jesus Christ with unbelievers (2 Cor. 2:14-17; 1 Cor. 1:21). These are all wonderful things! We rejoice in the Lord for how He has blessed us!

In life we interact with people on a continual basis. Some people we see over and over again. Others we see in passing once in awhile. We interact with people in the checkout at Wal Mart, at a grocery store, at a gas station, or at a coffee shop. How do we view these opportunities? How are we praying for them? Each day we should be praying that the Lord will give us opportunities to share with others about God’s incomparable love, grace, and mercy. Such a heart attitude is demonstrating humble submission and yieldedness to the Lord. God desires every believer to have such an attitude toward Him. The question for each of us is, “Is my heart completely yielded to the Lord?” Only you and the Lord know the answer to this question.

As we interact with people are we praying for wisdom and the words to speak to them? God desires to use us to speak the riches of His incomparable grace to lost people. Paul said, “This grace was given to me – the least of all the saints – to proclaim to the Gentiles the incalculable riches of the Messiah” (Eph. 3:8).1 Do we view sharing the gospel in this way? Sharing the good news about what Jesus Christ has done for humanity is an indescribable privilege! Can you imagine if each one of us shared the gospel with one person once per week? Let’s say that means forty different people hear the gospel each week! Wow, that sounds incredible, doesn’t it?! This is what God desires to use us to do. He has called us to share the message of the gospel.

Do we view sharing the message of Christ as a burden or a blessing? When our hearts and minds are right we view it as a blessing. My prayer is that we will be rejoicing in the truth of the gospel and joyfully sharing its message with those we interact with each day. As we do this our hearts will be more in tune with the Lord and we will experience His joy in our lives. Furthermore, God may open people’s eyes to the gospel and save their souls! This is what we pray for – unbelievers to be saved.

I am encouraging each of us to be praying for the salvation of unbelievers. I am encouraging each of us to be praying for opportunities to share the gospel with at least one person this coming week. I will be praying for you and I ask you to pray for me as well. I am looking forward to hearing what God will do in us and through us this coming week.

1Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, HCSB®, and Holman CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers. The Holy Bible: Holman Christian Standard Version. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009).

Renewed Focus

Last week I touched on the subject of the U.S. not being a major player in the end times and how it appears to be in decline currently. Scripture is always our guide in every area of life and our response to this decline is to make disciples. This week I am going to dive into what it means biblically to make disciples.

The word “disciple” is from the Greek word μαθντης which means, “learner, pupil” (BDAG). So, how do we as Christians make disciples of Jesus Christ? We have to start with the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-4; Rom. 3:21-26). Unbelievers need to hear the gospel from believers (2 Cor. 5:16-21). When God opens the eyes of an unbeliever to the truth of the gospel and he/she believes in Jesus Christ, then begins the process of teaching the new believer the truths of God’s Word. Christ mentioned in Matthew 28 that a part of making disciples is, “teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you” (v. 20). This teaching begins as soon as someone repents and believes in Christ and it continues until the believer stands before Christ in heaven.

One thing that opposes this is an aversion to ongoing learning and study. People are busy and do not feel as though they have the time to be learning and studying. The danger in this thinking is that a lack of knowing and understanding God’s Word makes a believer susceptible to false teaching and sin. When believers lack knowledge of God’s Word or misunderstand it, what they teach others will be passing on a distortion of the truth. It is so important that we read, study, and learn God’s Word so that we have an accurate understanding of who God is and what He expects from us. Otherwise, it is like we are walking in the dark.

Every Christian is called to make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20). All Christians are ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:16-21). It is so important to make sure that we share an accurate gospel and that we teach biblical truths accurately. Paul urged Timothy to watch his life and his teaching because ungodly living and false teaching negatively affect the teacher and the learners (1 Tim. 4:16). Therefore, every believer needs to consistently attend church, be serving, and be learning. Every believer needs to be consistently spending time communing with the Lord in prayer and by reading God’s Word (i.e. devotions). If Christians allow these crucial aspects of the Christian life to be crowded out by other things, we will be worse for it spiritually and so will the church now and in the future.

So, where are you in this conversation? Are you uncertain of where you stand with God? Are you a newer Christian who wants to learn and grow in your relationship with Christ? Maybe you have been a Christian for a while and you think this stuff is not for you – reading, learning, being trained, and studying God’s Word? Maybe none of these descriptions fit you. God has given pastors to teach you and help equip you to serve Christ and make disciples for Him. This takes time, self-discipline, and commitment. It requires prioritizing one’s relationship with the Lord, His church, and ministry for Him. My prayer is that none of us would coast spiritually but that we will put Christ first in our lives and that His priorities would be our priorities.

Current Events

Have you ever been taught that the United States is not a major player in the end times?  It is true, there is no clear evidence that the United States is a major player in the end times.  I remember the first time I heard this teaching and it was hard to fathom!  How is it possible that the U.S. does not have a major role in the end times?  The U.S. is the world’s sole super power, how can it not be mentioned?  Well, times are changing.  The United States has incurred a national debt once thought to be unimaginable (over 17 trillion dollars and rising everyday)!  Our nation’s debt is growing by $1.79 billion per day!  Some estimate that by 2018 our national debt will be over $20 trillion!  It is obvious that no one can continue to spend more that one’s income indefinitely.  Beyond the financial issues is the reality that the U.S. military is being downsized to a pre-World War II level and is said to, by some, to be incapable of responding to known threats in the world.  So, even as I write this the United States is becoming less influential in the world.

    How do we respond as Christians living in a nation which is changing morally, spiritually, and governmentally?  We could stick our heads in the sand and pretend it isn’t happening.  Or we could throw our hands up in the air and despair.  We could try to change things through political means.  What does Scripture say the mission of the church is?  Jesus gave us the mission of the church prior to His ascension.
    Matthew 28:18-20
Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of
    the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (HCSB)
    So, what does the mission of the church and Matthew 28:18-20 have to do with each other?  The answer is disciplemaking is the mission of the church.  The church is to respond to the chaos in the world by making disciples of Jesus Christ.  Why do we do that?  Isn’t there something else?  Well, we need to be praying people who are utterly dependant upon the Lord.  But, yes, the church is to continue to make disciples and never to lose sight its mission to do so.  If the church does a multitude of other things but does not seek to make disciples according to God’s Word, it has abandoned its mission.
    Next week I am going to expand upon this subject.  I am going to address what Scripture says about disciplemaking in my next article.

A Commentary on Judges and Ruth by Robert Chisolm, Jr. a review

Kregel Publishers has released a new series of commentaries entitled the Kregel Exegetical Library. One of those volumes is a commentary on Judges and Ruth by longtime Dallas Theological Seminary professor Dr. Robert Chisolm, Jr. In my seminary studies I used Chisholm’s book, A Workbook for Intermediate Hebrew, which was a very useful tool for Hebrew studies. Chisholm uses a method he terms a, “literary-theological” method (p. 14). He employs a three-step process to analyze the biblical text: (1) he studies the text to discover the exegetical main idea of each major literary unit; (2) he moves outside of the literary unit to discover the theological main idea being expressed; and (3) he seeks to discover the homiletical main idea which would be preached to the contemporary listener (p. 14). The author acknowledges that his present work does not interact with the most recent scholarly discussion of Judges and Ruth because his research was complete in 2010, and submitted to the publisher (p. 15).

The commentary itself is laid out very well. Chisholm begins each book with a lengthy introduction. The Judge’s introduction is 88 pages long! In his introduction he discusses authorship, dating of the books and events, structure of the books, and a list of useful commentaries and resources. The author also gives in-depth background on the main characters of each book, which is helpful in understanding the text. Before the author concludes the introduction shares the findings of his three-step interpretive process. Chisholm shares the exegetical idea, theological idea, and homiletical idea for each literary unit in the book of Judges and Ruth. He refers to this as: “(1) thematic analysis; (2) theological analysis; and (3) contemporary application” (p. 86). I appreciate Chisholm’s thorough exegetical and theological work that results in contemporary application. Such an approach keeps the sermon grounded in biblical text.

When moving to the biblical commentary of each book one finds Chisholm’s own slightly revised translation from the N.E.T. Bible (p. 109 footnote)from. The biblical commentary is broken into “chapters” which are the literary units or sermon messages in Judges and Ruth. The author takes the books section by section and exposits the text. He does not delve into text critical issues but rather assumes that the text should be read in a straightforward manner. This means when one reads this commentary he’ll find a commentator who approaches the text with care and respect. Chisholm has provided thorough footnotes with extensive information and related resources.

This commentary is a well-done example of conservative evangelical scholarship. Chisholm has provided a useful resource for pastors and teachers alike. It will be a resource I use repeatedly. I received this book from Kregel Publishers in exchange for an honest review (CBD, Amazon).

“Minding the Heart” by Robert Saucy (a review)

Robert Saucy of Talbot School of Theology has written a substantive volume on the biblical subject of the heart. Saucy confesses that he has long desired to write such a work for the benefit of the church. The chapters are filled with biblical, theological, psychological, and medical arguments and evidence for Saucy’ view of the heart. The author looks to the Old Testament conception of the heart as the seat of one’s emotions, but also points out that the heart is inseparable from every other part of one’s being. He suggests the heart is the person, and the person is the heart. This argument is certainly in line with the Old Testament conception of heart.

The author, as mentioned in the preceding paragraph, uses resources from secular psychology and medicine to support his arguments at times. This may be a negative for some but in the early portions of the book the secular sources are only used to support arguments, not establish them. An issue I have with Saucy’s approach is the section on meditation, which sets forth lectio divina as a model for Christian meditation. As long as an individual follows biblical exhortations and guidelines for Christian meditation, the practice of meditation is fine. My problem is the Catholic mysticism, which is bound up in lectio divina. It is inseparable from the writings of those who originated the practice. I would’ve found it more helpful to leave lectio divina out of the volume completely.

Saucy also discusses the Lord’s Supper employing imagery that sounds sacramental, even Catholic. He said, “Eating and drinking Christ’s body and blood are vivid metaphors for our need to ingest through faith the spiritual food and drink of the One who surrendered his body to death and shed his blood as a sacrifice for our sin that we might share in his resurrection life. Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, it should remind us of the truth that our spiritual life and growth is dependent on our continual feeding on the living Christ even as our physical life depends on the ingesting of physical nourishment” (p. 267). This language sounds very similar to Catholic theology. They believe that Catholics will receive spiritual nourishment by participating in the Catholic “mass.” This is entirely at odds with the intended symbolism of the New Testament teaching concerning the elements of the Lord’s Supper. The author clarifies by stating the following, “The nourishing food of Christ comes through consuming and digesting God’s Word even as we consume and digest food and drink” (p. 267). He also reiterates this biblical concept of receiving spiritual nourishment through the Scriptures on page 268. So, in fairness he does clear up any potential misconception. But, my defenses were raised to the issue because of his promotion of lectio divina which originated with Catholic mystics.

Saucy moves on to discuss the very important but frequently misunderstood issue of, “What do you do when you don’t feel like doing what God has commanded you to do?” The author proposes that right actions will lead to write thinking and right emotions. If believers always waited around for their emotions to be in line before they acted in obedience, they would rarely act in obedience. This conclusion and counsel from the author is supported by his earlier chapter on the condition of the heart. The believer needs to progress in personal sanctification and the heart needs further transformation, which is aided by right action.

The author touches on the importance of fellow believers (i.e. community) in the spiritual transformation of heart and the believer’s progressive sanctification. Believers are able to speak truth to each other, hold one another accountable, and encourage each other. Saucy points out that God has designed the Christian life to be lived out in community with other believers. Overall, Saucy has provided a thorough and helpful work. He has discussed the significance of the heart in the life of man, especially the Christian man. I would recommend this book as a beneficial treatment of the subject.

I received this book from Kregel Publishers in exchange for an unbiased review.

Two Ordinances

In my last article on the Baptist Distinctives, which discussed, “Priesthood of the believer,” I covered the N.T. teaching that every born-again Christian is a believer-priest. There is no distinct class of individual referred to as a priest in the N.T. Church. This week I will cover the biblical teaching of, “Two ordinances.” The two ordinances of the N.T. Church are baptism and the Lord’s Supper (or “communion”). Let’s examine what an ordinance is.

An ordinance is a decree or command given by Christ, which is to be carried out by the N.T. Church. Some refer to these as, “sacraments,” rather than ordinances. Those who view baptism and the Lord’s Supper as sacraments believe that God’s grace is dispensed and received automatically through individuals taking part. This “sacramental” teaching is not found in the N.T. It is something that developed in the Roman Catholic Church, and unfortunately was not abandoned by some of the reformers (Calvin, Luther). It is more biblical to view them as ordinances given by Christ for the N.T. Church to observe. They are not acts which result in the participant receiving grace, either in regard to saving grace (salvation) or sanctifying grace (spiritual growth). These are simply commands or ordinances to be obeyed.

When we look at the Lord’s institution of the N.T. Church ordinance of baptism, we see it as a component of making disciples (Matt. 28:19-20). Those who repented of their sin and believed the gospel became disciples (i.e. followers), and they were baptized publicly to demonstrate their faith in Christ and decision to follow Him. This establishes the importance of disciples being baptized. When Peter’s sermon reached its conclusion the listeners asked how they should respond. Peter replied, “Repent… and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).1 They were to repent, believe in Christ, and be baptized. Baptism was their public profession of repentance and faith. Following the Ethiopian eunuch’s repentance and faith, he was baptized as an outward demonstration of his repentance and faith in Christ (Acts 9:34-38). In Acts, we read of the baptism of the 3,000 who responded to Peter’s sermon (2:41-42), a number of Samaritans (8:12-13), Saul (9:10-18), Cornelius and a number of Gentiles ( 10:42-48), among others. When an individual has repented and believed the gospel, baptism outwardly identifies the individual as a believer in and follower of Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus commanded baptism as something to be carried out by local churches, as they make disciples. Therefore, it is one of the New Testament Church’s ordinances.

The other N.T. Church ordinance is the Lord’s Supper. It was instituted by the Lord Jesus as a means of remembrance (Matt. 26:26-28). The Lord’s Supper would employ elements (unleavened bread and grape juice) that would remind believers of the body of Christ (the bread) and the blood of Christ (the cup). These elements are symbols to remind us of what has been given on our behalf by Christ. Christ was crucified and His blood was shed on the cross. Peter said, “He bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness; you have been healed by His wounds” (1 Pet. 2:24). Every time we gather as a local church and celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we remember what Jesus has done for us. We celebrate and remember the spiritual union we have with Christ because we have received salvation by faith in the gospel (1 Cor. 12:12-13; 2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 6:1-11). Also, we celebrate and remember the spiritual union we have with all true believers because we are a part of the body of Christ, the Church (1 Cor. 12:14-27; Eph. 4:11-16). We celebrate our salvation, our union with the Lord, and our union with all true believers, each time we observe the Lord’s Supper with our local church.

Paul gave instructions about how to observe this ordinance properly (1 Cor. 11:17-34). Obviously the Lord’s Supper is only for true believers. It is to be celebrated with a local church, as this is the setting of 1 Corinthians 11. Participation in this ordinance is to be preceded by self-examination (11:27-32). Believers should not participate in an unworthy way (v. 27). Therefore, believers should give thought to whether or not they are living in unrepentant sin. If so, they need to repent and confess their sin to the Lord (1 John 1:9). Also, believers should make certain they are reverent and worshipful as they participate. Furthermore, believers are to demonstrate love and consideration for the fellow members of their local church as they celebrate the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:18, 21-22). Local churches are to observe the Lord’s Supper until He returns (1 Cor. 11:26).

Others hold that foot washing is a third ordinance for the N.T. Church (John 13:1-15). Foot washing had great significance in the first century because people wore sandals and walked on dirt roads. Whenever someone entered a home the lowest servant of the host would clean the feet of the guests. Jesus was modeling servanthood for His disciples through a culturally relevant practice. The disciples would’ve been astonished to see the Lord Jesus doing something customarily reserved for the lowest servant of a household. This practice does not have the same significance today that it had in the first century. We can take away the principle that the Lord Jesus desires Christians to serve one another in humility (1 Pet. 5:5b; Rom. 12:9-16; Phil. 2:1-11). Our attitude as Christians is to be marked by humble servanthood, as is outlined in Philippians 2:1-11.

As we observe the ordinances of the N.T. Church, we honor the Lord Jesus who instituted them. One may see the distinction between viewing baptism and the Lord’s Supper as ordinances rather than sacraments as something trivial. I would suggest it is important to define things as biblically as possible. We don’t read of baptism and the Lord’s Supper being, “Means of grace,” (i.e. sacraments) in the N.T. Therefore, we have defined them as ordinances.

Next week I will discuss the Baptist Distinctive, “Individual soul liberty.”

Priesthood of the Believer

I took a break from my series on the Baptist distinctives (BAPTISTS1) but now I am endeavoring to finish it. I’ve already covered Biblical authority, and Autonomy of the local church. This week I will address Priesthood of the believer. Priesthood of the believer? What do I mean? You may be thinking, “But, I am not Catholic.” Well, when we look at the N.T. we learn that every true believer in Christ is referred to as a “priest” (1 Pet. 2:5; Rev. 1:5b-6). So, if you have been born again through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ then you are a priest, a believer-priest.

What is the significance of the N.T. priesthood of the believer? First of all, it alerts us to the fact that in the N.T. Church there is no special class of believer referred to as a priesthood. All genuine Christians are priests. Jesus Christ lived in perfect obedience to the O.T. law and therefore fulfilled it. As a result, the O.T. priesthood no longer exists. Under the O.T. Law, only a descendent of Aaron could serve as high priest and represent the nation of Israel by offering a sacrifice to cover the sin of the nation for one year (Lev. 16). Jesus Christ is our high priest having offered Himself once for all time on the cross (Heb. 9:11-29; 6:20). The Levites served as priests and would carry out duties related to worship, teaching, sacrifice, and prayer (Lev. 10:15). Priests had to be descendents of Aaron, and to offer sacrifice they had to be blameless physically (Lev. 21:16-24). They were essentially a special class of Israelite. Priests were allowed to do certain things that other Israelites were not.

In Christ, all N.T. believers are a part of His body, the church, and are called priests. This priesthood has nothing to do with lineage (no need to be a descendent of Aaron), physical attributes (Lev. 21:16-24), clothing (Ex. 28), or holy conduct (Lev. 21:1-15). Through faith in the death and resurrection of Christ a person becomes a N.T. believer-priest. This priesthood cannot be forfeited because it is a part of being an authentic Christian. But, the important question is, what is the significance of being a believer-priest? Believer-priests can confess their sins directly to God (1 John 1:9). There is no need to appear before another individual to confess sins. A N.T. believer can pray directly to God (Phil. 4:6-7; Col. 4:2-4). Since Jesus Christ is our high priest we can, “Approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time” (Heb. 4:16b).2

Believer-priests can offer “sacrifices” to the Lord directly. O.T. priests offered animal sacrifices to the Lord at the Tabernacle and then later at the Temple in Jerusalem. Christians can offer the Lord: sacrifices of praise (Heb. 13:15); financial sacrifices (Phil. 4:15-20); obedience (Phil. 2:17; 1 Pet. 2:4-5); ourselves through holy living (Rom. 12:1-2); individuals whom they have led to Christ (Rom. 15:15-16); and their own lives to the point of execution for Christ (2 Tim. 4:6). Furthermore, N.T. believer-priests can all hear from God through His Word (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:19-21). These are privileges that every Christian possesses through faith in Christ.

According to Scripture there is no such thing as a church leader being a priest or belonging to a priesthood that is distinct from that of other Christians You do not need to confess your sins to a church leader (i.e. a priest), unless you are apologizing for sinning against him personally. You can pray directly to God the Father and confess your sins to Him because of your faith in Jesus Christ. There is no church leader that has authority on his own to forgive sins. As a believer-priest you are able to have fellowship with God to the same extent (or depth) as any other Christian. There is no hierarchy or special class of believer. There is no distinct priesthood.

This is one of the reasons why every Christian who is a member of a local church has a responsibility to ensure: church discipline is carried out biblically (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5); false teaching is addressed and not tolerated (Gal. 1:6-10); ministry is done by the church body, not just by the “professionals” (Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Cor. 12; 1 Pet. 4:10-11; Rom. 12:3-8, 11); believers are exhorted to biblical living (1 Thess. 5:13b-15); believers are cared for (1 Tim. 5:3; Heb. 13:16; Rom. 12:10, 13); prayer is occurring (Rom. 12:12); and disciple making is the focus of the church (Matt. 28:19-20). Every true Christian is able to hear from God through His Word, pray and confess sins to God, and serve Him. It is so important that we are aware of Scripture’s teach on the N.T. priesthood of the believer. It will help us to function biblically as believers and as a church. Otherwise, the temptation to create an extra-biblical hierarchy (or priesthood) is present. It has happened in history and we must guard against it. Next week, I will address the Baptist distinctive, “Two offices.”

1Biblical authority, Autonomy of the local church, Priesthood of the believer, Two offices (pastor and deacon), Individual soul liberty, Saved church membership, Two ordinances (communion and baptism), and Separation of church and state.

2Scripture quotations marked HCSB are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers. The Holy Bible: Holman Christian Standard Version. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009).

Autonomy of the Local Church

A couple of weeks ago I discussed the Baptist distinctive, biblical authority (BAPTISTS). This week I will discuss the Baptist distinctive, autonomy of the local church. When we look at the N.T. we witness the birth of the Church on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2).1 We are informed by God’s Word that the Lord Jesus Christ alone is the head of the Church (Eph. 4:15; 5:23; Col. 1:18; 2:19). What Scripture means by “head” is Jesus is of superior rank. He is the Lord or master of the Church. Let me start by distinguishing the Universal Church from local churches. The Universal Church includes every born-again Christian. At the moment of salvation every true Christian is placed into the body of Christ (i.e. the Universal Church) by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:12-13, 18-20; Eph. 4:1-16). Local churches are to be visible expressions of the Universal Church in different geographical locations. But, the difference is it is possible that local churches may have members who are unbelievers, professing to be genuine Christians. Only God and the individual professing Christian ultimately know whether he/she is genuinely born-again. The Universal Church contains only true believers. Only those with credible professions of faith should be baptized and become members of local churches. As much as is humanly possible, our church membership rolls should reflect those who are a part of the Universal Church (i.e. born-again Christians). This is why we have membership classes, and strive to keep our membership roll current.

Christ has communicated in the N.T. Scriptures how he desires the church (Universal and local) to function (John 14:25-26; 15:26-27; 16:4, 12-15; 2 Tim. 3:16-4:5; 1 Tim. 3:15). So, Jesus is the head of the Church and he has given us his complete instructions for the Church in the N.T. (hence, the Baptist distinctive, biblical authority). The local church is a structurally organized fellowship of baptized professing believers in a specific locality: meeting in the name of Christ, under the authority of Scripture, for the purpose of carrying out Christ’s commission in their area (Acts 2:41-47). A local church should be under the leadership (or at least in pursuit of) of a biblically qualified and called elder/pastor (or if possible a plurality of elders/pastors) (Tit. 1:5-9; Heb. 13:7, 17; 1 Thess. 5:12-13). The local church is called by God to carry out the biblical purposes and functions of the church in this world – evangelism (Acts 2:47), discipleship (Tit. 2:1-5), prayer (Acts 2:42), ministry (Eph. 4:11-16; 5:19-21; Tit. 3:8, 14), worship (Acts 2:47), baptism (Acts 2:41), celebrating the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-34), appointing of elders and deacons (1 Tim. 3:1-13; cf. Acts 6:1-6 – prototype deacons), disciplining elders (1 Tim. 5:19-20), and disciplining members (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5; 2 Cor. 2:5-11).

The apostles led the Church following Christ’s ascension to the Father’s right hand. We see Peter as the leader of the apostles (Acts 1:15; 2:14; cf. John21:15-19). Therefore, the apostles taught, led/shepherded, and equipped the Church for ministry. But, as the Church began to grow numerically, it began to spread geographically (Acts 8:1; 11:19-26). In these new geographical locations the Christians were organized into local churches. The apostles were mainly stationed in Jerusalem, where they provided leadership for the local church there. This necessitated leadership in the various local churches that were being organized. The first mention of non-apostolic leadership for local churches is found in Acts 11:30. The local church in Antioch sent financial relief to the local church in Jerusalem. They sent it with Barnabas and Saul, who delivered it to the “elders” of the Jerusalem church. Now, these elders were not the elders of Judaism, but rather, elders in the Jerusalem church. This begins a shift from apostolic leadership to elder leadership. Ultimately, the spiritual leadership was carried out according to Scripture, under the Lord Jesus Christ’s authority. He is the head of the Church (Universal and local). In Acts 14, we learn that after a group of individuals repented of their sin and believed the gospel, they were organized into a local church under the leadership of biblically qualified elders (vv. 21-28). In Acts 15, we learn that the apostles and elders in the Jerusalem church led the church through issues concerning Gentile Christians. Verse six says, “Then the apostles and the elders assembled to consider this matter.” Verse two describes the apostles and elders as those in leadership. So, it is clear that as time progressed in the book of Acts, the leadership role transferred from the apostles to the elders in local church. The apostles oversaw the Universal Church but elders had oversight of individual local churches.

When we look at Acts 20, we observe the apostle Paul, who had planted the church in Ephesus, exhorting the Ephesian elders to shepherd (i.e. pastor) and oversee (i.e. bishop) the Ephesian church. He urged them to follow his own personal example (vv. 17-38). Paul urged them to, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock that the Holy Spirit has appointed you to as overseers (i.e. bishops), to shepherd (i.e. pastor) the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood” (v. 28). Leadership in the Ephesian church transferred from Paul the apostle to biblically qualified elders. The apostle Peter exhorted elders of local churches here, “I exhort the elders (presbuteros) among you: Shepherd (i.e. pastor, pomenate) God’s flock (pomniou) among you, not overseeing (i.e. bishoping, episkopontes) out of compulsion but freely, according to God’s will; not for the money but eagerly; not lording (i.e. dominating) it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock (pomniou). And when the chief Shepherd (archipoimenos) appears, you will receive me the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:1b-4). Jesus is described here as the chief Shepherd (i.e. chief Pastor). He is the head Pastor of the Church (Universal and local). Elders are Christ’s under-shepherds.

When the apostle John died of old age before the end of the first century the apostolic office came to an end. Jesus Christ is still the head of the Church (Universal and local). But now, biblically qualified elders/pastors/overseers lead local churches in which the Holy Spirit appointed them (Acts 20:28). These biblically qualified and divinely appointed men serve under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. They shepherd (i.e. pastor) and oversee local churches.

Now, I’ve gone through all of these biblical passages to establish the biblical basis for each local church being autonomous. Each local church has Christ as its head. According to the N.T. biblically qualified elders were appointed to shepherd (i.e. pastor) and oversee local churches. Each local church carried out its own church discipline (1 Cor. 5; 2 Cor. 2:5-11). Some of the local churches are addressed in Revelation 2-3 were urged to repent of their congregation’s sin and conversely some of them were encouraged to continue in their congregation’s obedience. The church in Philadelphia wasn’t told to help the Ephesian church repent (2:4-5). The church in Ephesus wasn’t told to deal with the idolatry and sexual immorality in Thyatira (2:18-23). The local church in Philippi was called to spiritual unity in their congregation (Phil. 2:1-4). They were not called to spiritual unity with the church in Corinth. Each local church is called to respect, love, and submit to its own pastor(s), not the pastor(s) of another local church (1 Thess. 5:12-13; Heb. 13:7, 17). Each local church is responsible for its own affairs under the headship of Christ. It is to be submitted to the Word of God in all areas, and following the leadership of its biblically qualified pastor(s).

This means the local church should not be under any denominational hierarchy or authority. No one outside the local church has authority to tell that church what to do or teach. Under the headship of Christ, each local church should call its own pastor(s) and appoint its own deacons to care for it. It functions under the authority of God’s Word in all areas. It should approve its own Constitution and doctrinal statement. Local churches should follow God’s Word in issues of church discipline, baptism, church membership, doctrine, encouragement, correction, music, etc… Others have created a denominational hierarchy outside of the local church. It determines what pastor(s) a local church receives, how much he makes for salary, and how long he remains at the church. The denominational hierarchy outlines its doctrine, even what marriages a church will perform. Many local churches have been evicted from the buildings they in which they met because they did not agree with their denomination over homosexual marriage, female pastors, and a variety of other issues. We do not find evidence of any such hierarchy in the N.T. Christ alone is the head of the Church. Pastors lead the local church they were appointed to, under the headship of Christ. The apostles are gone. So, there is no one who has authority over multiple churches, except Christ himself. He is over them all.

The Baptist distinctive, autonomy of the local church, states that there is no authority outside of the local church, except Jesus Christ the Lord. Next week, I will deal with the Baptist distinctive, priesthood of the believer.

1The church was born when the Holy Spirit came upon the Christians, baptizing and indwelling them (Acts 2).

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 37 other followers