Continuing with our study in Systemic Theology III with the doctrine of the Church, or Ecclesiology. We are taking our time on this because it affects every believer in a very practical way.
Think about this for a moment, and it becomes rather obvious.
Within orthodox Christianity there is not much debate over core doctrines such as the deity of Christ or the Spirit. Justification by faith alone is not questioned. There is little argument over the reality of angels and demons.
But ask about baptizing babies? You have a fight on your hands in short order. And then you get to discuss and fight over immersion vs dipping vs pouring vs sprinkling. Is it supposed to be in the Triune name or only in Jesus’ name?
Bishops or elders? Congregational rule or not?
Wine when you take communion or only grape juice. Sacrament or ordinance?
Women preachers or leaders? Or only men?
Require church membership or not? Are you sinning if you do require it? Are you really part of the Church universal if you refuse to join in membership with a local church?
These are simple examples of how denominations are created and how friends can somehow become not friends later on.
Are these unimportant or of high importance? How do you know?
So we are trying to spend some time here and lay out a solid theology of the Church.
But even then, it only scratches the surface. Beneath most every doctrine related to the Church there are connections back into so much of the other theology we have discussed up to this point.
We talked last time about the purpose of the Church and saw three purposes:
- Establish the Faith.
Today we will do a relatively quick survey of the various elements of a typical church service. In other words, what are the sort of things you should expect to see when the local church assembles? Not necessarily all of these have to be present every time, but these are the sort of things the gathered church should participate in and practice together.
Activities of The Assembled Church
Acts 2:41-47 as a basic paradigm.
Note as we read this, that it is not a series of commands, but simply a narrative.
"So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. 42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:41-47)
Many of the activities we will enumerate in a moment are captured in this simple narrative. This makes the passage helpful even though it is not necessarily normative.
What we mean by this is there are those who take vs 45 and argue for socialism of some sort as required for the Church. Or they were gathering in houses therefore house churches ought to be the thing the Church does. But it also says they met in the temple in vs 46 which is where they were taught. So, if you really want to press this narrative you would need to only meet in the temple in Jerusalem….which is destroyed.
The Lord’s Supper was a major purpose of the gathering:
"On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight."
Notice the clause “we were gathered together to break bread. The “to break” is what is known as an infinitive of purpose.
We might add that the development of the church under the Apostles is well advanced by now and yet Sunday is not called Sabbath. It is still the first day of the week.
Because Sunday is not the new sabbath no matter how much your creed, confession or theology book tries to say it is. But we will deal with that later.
1 Corinthians 11:20
"Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper,"
This one is actually a rebuke. But in it there is also the indication that the church would regularly gather for the Lord’s Supper.
They would turn it into a whole meal with the remembrance part done at the end. But by that time those who had been there for the whole affair were drunk and the poor and slaves who came later would be left with scraps.
His point was simple. Stop having meals together since you can’t control yourselves. But the Lord’s Supper would still be a part of the service, but without the drunkenness.
This one is simply the command to be baptized to indicate their repentance.
It is a public act but it was also in an evangelistic context making some say baptisms are not part of the gathering. However, connecting this with Matthew 28 shows us that baptism was the entranceway into the visible church.
1 Timothy 2:8
"Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension."
"With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, 19 and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel."
"Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord."
This context is a series of participles that explicate what is meant by the command “be filled with the Spirit.
Note that this is not private singing, but public as indicated by the “one another.” In fact the last part, “making melody with your heart” is interesting. The “your” is in the plural and the “heart” is in the singular. It is pointing to the corporate nature of the gathering of the church in Ephesus.
"Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God."
Reading of scripture
1 Timothy 4:13
"Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching."
The command is in the present tense which tells us that the reading of scripture is to be a central portion of the gathered church.
At Missio we try to weave it into the entire service, so that a person has to willfully refuse to hear and heed it if they wish to be in attendance. We never want an unbeliever or believer to have to go looking for what God says.
This is also strongly implied in how the epistles made reference to “according to the Scriptures” and “the Scripture.”
Romans 1:2; 4:3; 9:17
"which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, (Rom. 1:2 ESV)
For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness."
1 Corinthians 15:3-4
Preaching/teaching the Scripture
"teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
What stands out in this well-known passage is the “all.” This indicates the extensive and expansive nature of the teaching as well as the parameters. We don’t choose which passage we teach on. We also are not teachers of other teachings, but the teachings of our Lord and God.
We would even argue that this is a strong indicator for true expositional preaching, for only that method forces you to preach the whole of the text.
1 Corinthians 1:23-24
"but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."
Three groups of people with three responses:
1 Timothy 5:17
2 Timothy 4:2
"preach the word; be ready in season and out of season."
Final words of a dying man to his disciple and beloved child in the faith.
There is an intensity to this that actually is very emotional if you give it thought. It is almost like Paul reaches up and grabs Timothy and stares into his eyes and says these words with great emotion.
Preach the Word is the need always. But it is most definitely the need for this hour for we are certainly in the “out of season” time.
We pointed out last week how the purpose of the Church is very Word-centered and Word-focused.
We are not the ones who decide what the church looks like. We conform ourselves to what the Lord tells us in the Bible.
However, we also argued that the whole debate around normative vs regulative rules of worship really does not help move this idea along. The reason is that they tend to focus on the “what” rather than the “why.” In other words, can you play a piano or only a cymbal or harp? Or can you even play an instrument at all? These are “what” questions.
However, if you ask “why,” then things tend to clarify a bit because we can go back to the purpose of the Church and ask why doing this or that achieves and conforms to those purposes? Then we can follow all of that up, just to make sure, and ask “exactly how does this activity move people toward obeying the purposes God has given us?
Well, again, in this list we just went through you can see that all of these are elements described or commanded in the Bible.
Specifically in the NT because we hold that the Church did not start until Acts 2.
But the point is that they are not elements we came up with but elements that we see clearly within the confines of Scripture.
And as you heard, when we read the various passages supporting each activity, they were very God-centered rather than some fun, relevant, laughter infused activity that is designed to humor or entertain, or even inform people.
We hope this is enlightening to you. Maybe it was something you already know and practice. But perhaps it was something that you learned and will help you as you consider what church you attend and why.