We return to our series on Systematic Theology, and are currently in what we call ST 3; which covers the doctrines of the church and end times.
These are the result of our own labors rather than simply taking you through a book on systematic theology.
Remember that the primary purpose for the podcast is not to gain a name for ourselves or to develop a brand that we can try to leverage ourselves into some special place in the minds of people.
It is a pastoral podcast where we are trying to help give our people in our church biblical teaching. We want them to think biblically so that they can live in a manner that is pleasing to the Lord.
But we invite everyone who listens to continue to do so and we hope that along the way you are able to find much that is helpful in these episodes.
We are working on the doctrine of the church right now. We have introduced the doctrine and explained that it is something that is very important but also something that creates a lot of controversy.
We saw the various terms and imagery that are used to refer to the church. Here we made the key distinction between the Universal Church and the Local Church, upon which the bible primarily focuses.
We saw how the Reformers viewed the church since the Reformation radically affects each Christian today.
Then, we considered when the church began and its relationship with Israel.
So today we will talk about what is its purpose.
Pretty big deal because if we can’ figure out why the Church exists then we are left to wander about doing whatever comes to mind...which is what too many so-called churches are doing.
When you see guys using super-soakers to illustrate the Holy Spirit, why is that good or bad? When you create a seeker-sensitive service as your main draw and venue, is it good or bad?
When you go for a unique demographic of people and so you create a church around attracting them, good or bad? When you make mercy ministries, like reading programs and food pantries and such major works for the church and its identity, good or bad?
When your church is defined by suits, long dresses, and only a piano and hymn books, is that good or bad?
Finally, what is allowable to do in a Church service and gathering and what is not? In other words, the regulative vs normative rule of worship. We can go on and on about this but why does the church exist and what is its purpose?
So What Is The Purpose of The Church?
We will argue that there are three main purposes for the assembled Church.
This is making a distinction between the universal Church which is made up of all believers since Acts 2. It also makes the distinction between the Church and the whole of the redeemed, what we will call simply the people of God. What the church does together in any given place on earth is not the same as what those in heaven awaiting the resurrection are doing.
It also makes the distinction between the individual people of the Church. When you are saved you are brought into the Body of Christ, the Church by Jesus through the Spirit. We are not talking about what you as an individual are to do. We are talking about what the local assemblies of believers, the local church, are to be focused upon.
The First is Worship
The word itself comes from old English of “worth + ship.” It is the idea of having value or worth. So it involves being held in high esteem and honor.
It involves the idea of emotions --- feeling adoration, fear and reverence. And it involves the mind --- knowing, learning and considering what is true about who we worship. And it involves the body --- using our body to sing and bow and eat and drink.
“Worship is man’s response to God’s revelation.” (Andrew Blackwood)
“Worship. . . is nothing but the out-working of God-centeredness in the individual and corporate experience of the people of God.” (D. A. Carson)
“Worship is our response to what God has revealed about himself. The scriptures are the written record where we receive God’s special revelation. Through the scriptures, we learn about God; we learn about his love for his people; and we discover his redemptive plan. Worship is our response to this foundational truth.”
(Kevin J. Navarro)
This is harder to do than many realize. Ask the average Christian what worship is and you will see many struggle to define it.
“True worship involves reverential human acts of submission and homage before the divine Sovereign, in response to his gracious revelation of himself, and in accordance with his will” (Block, For The Glory of God, p 23-24)
Features of Worship:
It is reactive. We cannot worship God properly if God does not first reveal himself to us or opened our eyes to understand biblical revelation. Therefore it is also only worship when it is in accordance to revealed truth and in line with his revealed will. One cannot truly worship when it arises from one’s own imagination or feelings.
Cranfield, commenting on Romans 12:1-2, points out that it was “intelligent, understanding worship . . . which is consonant with the truth of the Gospel, is indeed nothing less than the offering of one’s whole self in the whole of one’s concrete living, in one’s inward thought, feelings and aspirations, but also in one’s words and deeds” (Cranfield, “Comment Rom. 12-13" Scottish Journal of Theology Occasion Papers, p. 14).
The object of worship is God:
"And I fell at [the angel’s] feet to worship him. And he said to me, "Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." (Rev. 19:10)
Revelation 22:8-9, John does it again and the command is the same–worship God.
The basis of worship is that “God is Spirit:”
"God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." (Jn. 4:24)
Not speaking of the Holy Spirit; rather, it is simply defining the essential nature of God.
It is better translated “spiritual” for it does not describe God as some bodiless entity like some ghost. But it also means that He cannot be contained in any physical representation, which is why graven images were forbidden. Along with this God is not confined to any particular place, though in times past (OT Temple) He identified Himself in specific places.
“In calling for worship “in spirit and truth,” the Lord is stating more than worship from the heart . . . this was already the characteristic of true worship in the Old Testament. Nor is spirituality of God a new revelation (cf. Is 31:3). Christ is speaking of the new reality of worship which comes from Him. It is a Messianic statement. God . . . now confronts man directly in Christ rather than in the shadows of the typical forms” (Saucy, p. 169).
- “In truth” is understood in two aspects:
It would be conformed by the bible.
“Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.” (Jn. 17:17-19)
John Calvin said it this way, “the Word of the Lord is the sole way that can lead us in our search for what is lawful to hold concerning [God]. . . It will readily keep and restrain us from all rashness. For we know that the moment we exceed the bounds of the Word, our course is outside the pathway and in darkness, and that there we will repeatedly wander, slip, and stumble. (Institutes, III, 21.1-2)
Its character is genuine.
“The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether.” (Ps. 19:7-9)
In other words, “in truth” means that worship must conform and function within the realm of what is true. Worship is not what we define it to be but what God defines it to be. This makes the Word of God central to defining worship.
The relationship of worship in the church.
It is always founded upon God, who is alone worthy of worship.
It is also noteworthy that while the Old Testament is replete with examples of cultic worship, never does the New Testament connect Christians with cultic worship. The emphasis on their gathering is NOT on worship as much as it is in encouraging and instructing one another. The reason for this is that the New Testament views life as a service of true worship. We reveal who and what we worship in how we live.
But Saucy points out that it also has effects on the church. Speaking of the Corinthian church he notes: “all manifestations of the Spirit in the worship at Corinth were designed to build up the total community of believers. This took place through the growth of individuals, but that which was done only for self-edification was wrong (1 Co 14:4) (Saucy, p. 176)
This is a powerful point to make, for it challenges the oft thought idea that worship is what “I” get out of it. Rather than the “Body” worshiping truly together for one another…
Regulative vs. Normative Rule of Worship
Regulative Rule argues that only that which is expressly commanded in Scripture is to be used in the corporate gathering to worship.
Normative Rule argues that if it is not expressly forbidden then the local church is free to use anything.
This is a theological argument that is not found in the bible. Both sides will give examples of how the other position creates either legalism or licentiousness.
Both fail to address the motivation behind what is or is not done. They claim to love but their hearts are far from the Lord (cf. Isaiah 29:13).
The Regulative Rule usually sees the Church and Israel as the same and therefore many Old Testament regulations are brought to bear upon the Church. But if the Church is not Israel then only the New Testament, especially the epistles, can speak to worship in the Church.
Finally, neither position really brings finality to anything. Even within the two camps there is not full agreement.
It would be our position that the problem is exacerbated by an improper grasp that worship is bound up in our daily life, not only when the Church gathers. When we see a Sunday service as the time of worship we then begin to see other times as not worship.
The external expression of the corporate gathering is less important than the purpose and focus of what is done or not done. If the purpose is primarily for what pleases the people then it is likely done wrongly or is wrong in itself. If the purpose is to draw the minds of the people to see the person and character of God then it is likely done rightly and in line with Scripture.
The Second is Witness
This is not what people are likely thinking of. We are not talking about simply evangelism. That is really the task of the individuals of a church, though certainly it occurs on a corporate level.
We are speaking of the responsibility and task of giving testimony of what God is doing and who Jesus Christ is and what is to come. That may sound like evangelism but it is actually more. We will try to explain to make this clear.
John the Baptist as a precursor – “He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him.” (Jn. 1:7 NAU)
Apostolic witness -- Understand that what we are doing on any given Sunday when we open the Word is nothing less than hearing and learning the testimony of the Apostles, assuming we are in the NT.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)
“This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.” (Acts 2:32 ESV)
“but [you] put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.” (Acts 3:15 NAS)
“And with great power the apostles were giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.” (Acts 4:33 NAS)
“These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed-- for our testimony to you was believed.” (2 Thess. 1:9)
Here he is speaking about those who fight against this apostolic message and who reject it and refuse to obey it.
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God,” (2 Tim. 1:8)
(note the close connection of being a testimony and suffering for the gospel).
The Church today continues to be a faithful witness when it is faithful to teach and preach and obey the apostolic witness of the New Testament.
It is lost when the Church shifts its focus to other tasks and voices such as social justice, politics, and economic issues. And this is exactly what we are seeing in America today and it is a time to stand up and stand strong.
The Third is Establishing the Faith
That phrase, “the faith,” is not just some vague idea. It also is not referring to what a person’s faith, meaning the act of believing.
In other words, you will hear people say, “I just need to exercise more faith.” This usually means they need to not fret so much or they need to trust that God is doing something, whatever that may be.
“The faith” is a technical phrase that speaks of the body of truth and doctrine that makes up what a Christian is to believe. It is sound theology and it is something that the local church is to abound in teaching so that the people present can know what is true, what is false, what to do, what to avoid, who to follow, who to shun, what to love and what to hate, and so on and so forth.
It is found only in the Word and it is learned via teaching and preaching.
Acts 15:21-22 – be strengthened in the faith.
1 Corinthians 16:13 – stand firm in the faith.
2 Corinthians 13:5 – test yourselves to see if you are in the faith.
Ephesians 4:11-15 – attain to the unity of the faith.
Philippians 1:25 – your progress and joy in the faith.
Colossians 1:23 – continue in the faith.
1 Timothy 3:9 – holding to the mystery of the faith.
1 Timothy 4:1 – some will fall away from the faith.
1 Timothy 4:6 – nourished on the words of the faith.
1 Timothy 5:8 – denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.
1 Timothy 6:10 – wandered from the faith.
1 Timothy 6:21 – gone astray from the faith.
2 Timothy 3:8 – rejected as regards the faith.
2 Timothy 4:7 – I have kept the faith.
Titus 1:13 – that they may be sound in the faith.
Titus 3:15 – Greet those who love us in the faith.
Jude 1:3 – contend earnestly for the faith.
A local gathering that is not developing the people to grow with regard to the faith is a poor excuse for a church. Vague doctrine is never good.
1 Timothy 4:6 talks about being nourished on sound doctrine. Think about how many churches today have emaciated souls because all they hear are so-called relevant messages on how to have a happy life.
Vagueness breeds dissension because eventually every type of doctrine is floating around the church and people begin to divide into groups.
So Paul tells Titus, who is in Crete trying to fix problems in a very young and messed up church, “speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine.” (Titus 2:1)
If you belong to a church that is more interested in everyone getting along by being vague, we would encourage you to cast your eyes about for one more sound in doctrine. Unless you are a person in a position to actually effect change in your church, then you should begin to help it repent.
The purpose of the gathering is intrinsically Word-bound, not experience-focused.
Every aspect of what might be found in a solid service is defined and explained in the Word.
None of it is simply up to the people as they wish.
So when the Church sings they are instructing one another. When they remember the Lord in communion, it is because the Word informs them of what He did and Who He is. When they baptize it is in accordance to the formula given in the Word, and when they teach or preach it is to be the Word.
We hope this has been helpful and will provoke some thinking on your part. We will pick this up again in the next episode, Lord willing.