Saturday, April 10, 2010

A New Testament Local Church

By Mr. Ben Zemmer

The New Testament local church is the focus of God’s redemptive work on earth. Paul describes the church as the blood bought bride of Christ (Eph. 5:25-27). Elsewhere he describes the church as a field (1 Cor. 3:9), a building (1 Cor. 3:10), a temple (Eph. 2:10), a tree (Rom. 11:17-24), a batch of dough (1 Cor. 5:6-7), a body (Rom. 12:4-5), and a household (Eph. 2:19). Primary among these metaphors is the picture of a household (Banks, p.53). In many ways the household metaphor builds on the other metaphors through its concepts of unity and intimacy of relationship (Banks, p.54). Just as households were ordered and had distinct roles and functions, so the church exists under God’s guidance through the word and with Christ as the head (Clark, p.83). In His role as head over the household, God defines what the church is through His Word. Anything outside His definition does not truly qualify as a church and His specific promises regarding the church do not apply to the group whatever it may be. Some of the essential characteristics of the local church could be summarized as the following:

1. Right Preaching of the Word (Dever, p.2).

The proclamation of the Scriptures is essential to the life and spiritual wellbeing of the church. “So faith comes from hearing , and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). These are no uncertain terms that highlight the fact that God uses His word as it rests on the hearer’s ear in the midst of His transforming word. This is particularly true of believers, but also of the unbelievers that God is drawing to himself. The Church cannot and must not abandon this means of grace lest it shrivel up and die.

2. The “Right Administration of the Ordinances” (Dever, p.3).

There were two particular commands in the scripture regarding the structure and content of gathering together as a body of believers. Baptism is a proclamation of trust in God and an entering into community. The Lord’s Table is a picture of the unity within the body. Each part is equally dependent on God just as the branch must be connected to the trunk if it is to survive.

3. A Careful Practice of Membership (Dever, p. 3).

Membership is a tool for determining whether or not lives are matching up with the confession. When Paul called on the leaders in Corinth to remove the sinful brother from the group he indicates that there was some level of knowledge already which delineated who is in and who is out. Membership in its essence is just that: a tool to show which people are abiding by and holding to their confession.

4. Qualified and Correctly Ordered Leadership (Dever, p.4).

Paul made it crystal clear in both letters to Timothy and to Titus the office of leader is to be regarded carefully and all people must be examined according to the Scriptures.

5. Faithful Practice of Church Discipline (Dever, p.4).

Church discipline is to be primarily restorative in its outlook. Disciple is merciful because it points people closer towards Christ and it demonstrates the serious consequences of unbelief.

6. Participation in God’s Work of Expansion (Dever, p.5).

The entire book of Acts clearly lays out how God continued his work in the days of the Apostles expanding the local church. By definition, the church must follow the emphasis on outward expansion and proclamation of the gospel. No true church remains stagnate. The outward expansion of the kingdom of God on earth through the gospel in the hearts of people to the glory of God is indeed the purpose of the local church.

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