Ecclesiology

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Courtesy of Bible Gateway

 

Yes, another big scary word used through church history to best describe church practices. It is the meaning of the how to bits of church that we see operating every service on a Sunday from the order of device to the way preachers conduct themselves to leadership structure and style with regard to elders etc. Throughout church history, denominations have used creeds or strategic and biblically sound summaries of their belief system that highlights their distinctives, core theology and Church structure. They did this to ensure that people attending knew exactly what they were in for when attending, regarding Jesus, the Bible, views on sin, preaching, family, salvation, heaven, creation and even Christ’s role as head of the church. Theopedia gives the following definition of Ecclesiology:

    “The study of the Church is also known as ecclesiology. In general, ecclesiology addresses various issues, the most basic being a biblical definition of the “church” and its functions. Other issues involved in ecclesiology include forms of church government, leadership offices, ordinances, worship, and the relationship between the New Testament church and Israel, the Old Testament people of God. Therefore, a clear and biblical understanding is important to both Christian belief and practice.”

The modern church has had a history of axing important elements of church structure, creedal positions of doctrine and order of services for years, and it has had a lasting, viral impact on preaching, pragmatic church practices, incorrect exegesis in preaching as well as a total misunderstanding of the role of the church altogether. Various “paradigm shifts” have occurred since Rick Warren wrote his insidious book entitled “The Purpose Driven Church,” which essentially outlined personal opinions about what the church should be doing instead of what God has commissioned it to do. The book pushes for the visible church to be an attractive, successful, numerically large, healthy looking church that attracts all kinds of unbelieving customers to Christ through nonsensical means. Some of which are blasphemous, such as removing crosses from buildings (the wondrous cross… an emblem of suffering and shame that has a wondrous attraction for the believer), removing light from the building, removing long doctrinal sermons (the basis of all preaching and teaching) and even making so many programs for so many people that there’s “something for everyone.” This clearly sounds attractive for the desperate, searching, frustrated pastor who has nowhere to go because he has put down the Bible as sufficient for all life and doctrine, who is willing to give anything a go.

It’s easy to see the effects of the seeker-driven model of church now, because every bit of it is flipping the true church on its head and catering every aspect of the worship service to meet the felt needs of the participant. Not their spiritual need for a crucified then risen Saviour, no, their physical, emotional, health, self esteem and nourishment needs. Like coffee, self-help, timely sermons so that they can leave to get to their more important activities, fully supervised ball-pits for kids, really good food and a bookstore. Whilst all of this looks and sounds good for a shopping centre – where this kind of thing is essential – it has never, and will never be a strategy that can be implemented into a church, because the church simply isn’t a shopping centre.

The church, largely due to seeker-sensitive structures and practices, has eliminated church order, proper guidelines and character for preachers and pastors, leading the way for an “anything goes, as long as it’s positive” approach to church services. As long as people are happy, laughing, smiling, having conversation and having a “good time,” then every service will be gold. Absolute gold. The problem with this is that church is absolutely not supposed to exist for the comfort, enjoyment and fulfillment of sinner’s needs – it has historically and biblically been designed for the equipping and edification of the saints. In Acts, right after the Day of Pentecost, there is an explosion of gospel preaching done in Jerusalem. Tongues are given to the apostles, and they spill out of the upper room preaching the gospel of Jesus dying, rising again and defeating death for the forgiveness of sins, and it causes the church to form. These believers started gathering together to hear a preacher preach what the apostles said, which equates to what God said through the scriptures.

    Acts 2:41-42  Then those who gladly received his word were baptized. And the same day there were added about three thousand souls. And they were continuing steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, and in fellowship and in the breaking of the loaves, and in prayers.

The 3000 plus converts from paganism and self righteousness to Christianity began holding meetings where they would: Sing, take communion, teach what the apostles taught, and would fellowship with one another learning great Biblical doctrine. This very early church was a gathering of already converted people, who loved Christ and wanted to worship Him by observing “all that He commanded.” This wasn’t done with light shows, trickery, smoke, short messages on finances, book stores, cafes and childcare. These things have slowly been added to the church purely to accommodate the comfort of the unsaved who attend, not to edify Jesus or further the gospel. Now, I’m not against comfort in church, or coffee (I’m a huge coffee lover) or even modern worship music (I play, record, write songs and even follow many modern worship bands). However, seeker-sensitive ethics have created a church that neglects entirely the role of preaching doctrinally sound sermons, having reverent worship services that honour Christ with their content and focus, and the absolute necessity of equipping the saints to reach the lost and dying world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is simply something illogical about neglecting the church guidelines laid out in 1 Timothy and Titus and Acts, at the expense of the saved people attending the church. The gathering of the saints together in church is precisely that: a gathering of saved people worshipping their great God and Saviour Jesus Christ. If unbelievers walk into a service, they should feel welcomed, comfortable and even like they belong… but the gospel of Jesus Christ – repentance from sin and forgiveness in Jesus – is offensive. They will either arc up and get adrenaline pumping through their veins and have their conscience pierced, or will be so angry that they never return because of the offense of the cross. There’s no “comfortable” way of delivering the news that a sinner is under the judgment of God and desperately sinful in His eyes for transgressing His law, and that his only hope of being saved is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ & His mercy. That’s never a comfortable message because of it’s piercing reality. It’s the best news ever and at the same time the most devastating.

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Rock church. One way to nullify the reverent worship service

 

So, the church simply needs to reclaim biblical preaching, sound doctrine, good male pastors who have a love of God’s infallible word & its power, theology in worship and holding the gathering of believers closely as a sacred time where they meet to worship, eat, fellowship, hear the apostles doctrine and being equipped to reach the lost.

Without these elements in church, it simply becomes a lifeless meeting of non attentive people who crave excitement through carnal means – like concerts or skits – instead of the pure written word of God. To put it simply – the church becomes a club of people who simply meet to enjoy company with absolutely nothing in common. The believers in the early church met specifically to sing spiritual songs, hymns, pray, have communion, hear preaching that was meaty and doctrinal in content to exalt Christ, become equipped and empowered to reach the lost by being edified in their faith and pray for one another’s needs. This is all to be thrown out according to our new church model concocted by a select few powerful people. No doctrine, no creeds, no uncomfortable preaching, no communion, no sacred reading of scripture at length, certainly no crosses on the building, and no prayer for the needs of people by the elders.

In fact, the very model of church that increases the number of people coming in the door has in fact shut the door to Jesus, taking Him away from the place altogether. Truly. He knocks at the door of the wayward church in Revelation that has sought pleasure and comfort over spiritual growth and outreach, and He begs to come in. The church has to open the door again by laying aside its need to constantly be keeping up with the ever-changing landscape of worldy music, PA systems, lighting, comedy, circus acts, interpretation of literature and post modern thinking about modern social issues such as homosexuality and women in the home.

Randy White, who writes extensively on this movement, and is a Pastor himself, says this of modern church leadership models:

    “Have you noticed that I’ve not mentioned anything about the proclamation of the Word, and the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? That’s because there is not much to mention from the church today. The church today does good works, has good music (in the ears of many), has a really good sound-system, and a pastor who could lead circles around Moses. What it doesn’t have is the backbone to proclaim that our world must reject humanism, social justice, poverty eradication efforts, and other white-washed measures of “expanding the Kingdom of God”—and, must find its only hope in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

White, R Jan 2 2014 “Why I am Leaving the Church Growth Movement,” Viewed Feb 21 2016 <https://randywhiteministries.org/articles/leaving-church-growth-movement/&gt;

He says this because he sees the need to deal with the real issue the sinner has – sin – and not only that, but the very wrath of God abiding on him until he repents, lest he perish! There is no other way to literally “reach a dying world” than to proclaim to them repentance from sin and forgiveness in Christ Jesus alone! That is the mission of the church. Yes, do missional events, but if the gospel is unable to be found, please discontinue! They aren’t the churches’ mission. We are to go into all of the world and preach the gospel to every creature, making disciples, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them everything Jesus has commanded. That’s our actual commission! On Biblical literacy being key to having a Christ-centred church Randy White continues:

    “I will lose church-growth potential because I won’t allow a good-feeling production to trump reality. Do my church members know their Bible? Can they give a defense of the attacks against it? Can they rightly divide the Word of Truth? Do they have a Biblical worldview that understands creation (young-earth), eschatology (pre-trib), salvation (Jesus as propitiatory sacrifice), grace (free from the Law), and so much more? Have I developed a congregation that could, and would, stick with it through a months-long study of the book of Numbers?  Or Leviticus?  If I have not developed this kind of Biblical hunger, then I’ve just allowed them to be deceived by thinking they’ve had Bible study, experienced worship, and come away a better (and more Christ-like) person. Since I will stand before God someday to be judged for reality (not feelings), I will be satisfied to spend my time and energy developing a Biblically-literate congregation.”

This cuts to the heart of the issue – Pastors are supposed to be aptly trained by reputable seminaries on or offline to be able to “rightly divide the Word of Truth.” This is one thing that receives extra special judgment from God because they are responsible for speaking His very words from a pulpit/lectern/see-through-stand-thingy and say what God actually wants them to say about His infallible word! There is no greater responsibility, really… it’s one that carries great weight and great privilege. The seeker-driven Ecclesiology says to go to every effort to make the sinner happy, comfortable, well fed and like he belongs. The Biblical Ecclesiology has been to have theologically robust, God honouring, Bible believing, reverent, Jesus centred church services that simply honour Christ and His work on the cross, proclaiming the repentance from sin and forgiveness offered in Jesus. They have doctrinal statements that discuss, at length, their position on key areas like the atonement, creation, the fall of man, heaven and hell, God’s love, God’s judgment, end-times, the accuracy of scripture, and so on. They do this to solidify their faith so that it can be articulated better to others. They do this to connect with historical, orthodox Christianity. And they do this to ensure that they are, indeed, in the “faith once delivered to the saints.”

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Ecclesiology

  1. Hi again Luke,

    Another good post with some good points. The seeker sensitive church growth movement is as bad as you indicate – no real answers to be found in the ‘promises’ they make. Most people go with it for a while but always end up disappointed. The world does it better and for half the effort.

    May I sharpen you a little on some things in your post? Question your hermeneutical perspective?

    Do not confuse what the New Testament Scriptures plainly declare and what the ‘church’ has developed as traditions. Everyone says that the Bible is the ultimate authority for life and practice, but in reality ‘tradition’ has a huge part in the way we think. Does a fish know it is wet?

    What support does the Bible give us in the New Testament to encourage:
    1. ‘Church’ buildings and physical structures?
    2. Using symbols such as the ‘fish’ and the ‘cross’ to designate reverence?
    3. Congregations led by a *single* priest or pastor?
    4. The ‘monologue’ style of preaching / teaching?
    5. Communion as a ritual with a thin wafer and a thimble full of juice during a period of self introspection?
    6. Designated individuals to lead worship and select songs for the ‘service’?
    Answer: Nothing or extremely little.
    Always happy to change my mind if you can make a strong argument for these from the Scriptures!

    Luke, there are reasons why the Reformed Churches are too often known as the ‘frozen chosen’. No my friend, you will not find what you are looking for in Reformation style church services – they failed to move far enough away from the Catholic Church at the time. In 1515 Luther and Zwingli were adamant that it was the Bible or nothing – by 1525 they had given in to tradition and pragmatism. Only Conrad Grebel and the Anabaptists actually pushed through on ‘Sola Scriptura’. Yes they messed some things up, but boy they got some things right! You need to read about them from the Anabaptists themselves, not what the Catholics and Protestants said about them.
    At the end of his life, Luther lamented for all his teaching, all his sermons, all his ‘biblical’ instruction, Wittenberg was in as bad a moral state as it was when he started. He died an angry and frustrated man.

    Why does tradition not always work? I will give you one example. Communion. Go back to 1st Corinthians Chapter 11 and read it with fresh eyes as if you’d never seen it before. What do you see, as it reads? Exegete it, don’t isogete your tradition on it!
    This is a meal, an actual ‘love feast’. They remember Christ’s New Covenant and His sacrifice, and them being the Body of Christ. The world should know they are His disciples because they have love one for another. The rich, who can come and go as they please, bring food in for the poor to eat…many Christians were slaves, or poor, or not noble, so they were tied to working and their masters letting them go when *they* wanted. Some rich people were eating all the food meant to be shared, getting drunk and acting badly before the poor could get there. For this, God killed some of them! They failed to ‘discern the Body’ and examine themselves for gluttony and arrogance that was against Christ’s command and intent – a demonstration of His love to them and their love for each other.

    What do we do to with a meal meant to be all about our union with Him as a body?

    We take the Catholic way with a tiny little ‘wafer’ or piece of bread and a small sip or thimble of juice. We do not think about the poor amongst us, we are all about ourselves and our “self examination to see if there is any unconfessed sin before taking the elements”. This is Catholicism with its ‘game of guilt’ that Luther and Zwingli refused to correct. This ‘church tradition’ continues today almost everywhere. It fails, however, to follow the Bible nor does it copy what the first Churches did.
    There are many other things that tradition colours. It is a great struggle to remove oneself from a church tradition and culture – I find it desperately hard myself but it is worth it to see things as they really are.

    D.

    (you do not have to publish my comments if you do not want to. It is your blog and I do tend to write a lot)

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  2. To Daniel:

    Appreciate your views on this. You sound like some of my friends who have also tired of traditions in church, but also grown weary of prosperity preaching performed week in and week out in services. Some of my friends, however, turned to the Hebrew Roots/Torah Observant/Messianic Believer movements as their safe place. This further skewed their faith, not continued them in sanctification. It turned them back to the “Torah” as their life guide, attempting to perform the OT practices as best they could to show their love for Christ. This was a wake up call for me that I, too, once leaving Pentecostalism as a denomination, could leap into something equally as damaging. So I’m treading, very carefully, into other “waters.”

    I haven’t been attending the church spoken of long enough to nut out the bolts of their stance on many issues, but that will come. This is just a snapshot of what happened to me when I visited, and I was ok afterwards. Thrilled. Relieved. Blessed and excited that God was doing a work there. That’s the first impression…

    Which denomination are you in now, out of curiosity? Because you’re speaking of John Piper well and that is brilliant! He’s done much for modern evangelical Christianity to admire & learn from. Desiring God (the book) changed my life. I am wondering what led you to the position you’re in also, and what capacity in church you are in also. If you’re up for revealing…

    We have searched, and searched for churches that do modern services with solid, orthodox, Biblical preaching, and indeed found 2 strong ones in the city that we love, but this is now out of reach. I love the New Calvinism thing that has resulted from a discontent with prosperity preaching and charlatans wanting to grab money and support from gullible people that use no discernment. This excites me. But I know that in Australia these churches that preach doctrine that is sound and still do modern missional things are few and far between. At least the smaller the pace you live. So going to a Baptist church that was small was in itself a step into unknown territory. I’ve had to think this through, and pray about it very hard. It’s so confusing wanting to leave all the silly light show antics aside and go somewhere else that preaches sound theology, yet desire to lead a worship team still and enjoy the kids church stuff a modern church offers. It’s why I wrote about being in 2 worlds. I still believe that Reformed Theology, when the good is sifted out from the bad (hyper Calvinism etc.) then it’s only going to end up in a good place, because it’s recapturing the fervent desire of the Reformers to simply exalt Jesus and preach solid orthodox sermons & reach dying men with the gospel of Jesus Christ (not omitting repentance and faith), but do it in a new way that’s still relevant & timely for NOW. I think this is wholly compatible, no matter what happened to Reformed guys like Luther at the end of their life. The legacy they left is astounding, and we can glean from this and other men of God like Spurgeon and Martin Lloyd Jones etc who simply strongly preach good doctrine & maintain younger generations ears today if they pick up on the lack in today’s pulpits.

    I have only just, literally in 3 months, jumped ship to other denominational waters, and am still learning along the way, but I can see without a doubt that “contermporvant” church is filling up with cracks and there’s only one way to turn – to scripture, to see what on earth happened from then to now to get so far from what the early church was doing. I’m not saying that we still have traditions we can drop, but simply that our focus as a whole has been on sinners being entertained, sermons have turned into Star Wars movie themed circuses and “self-esteem only” is the new rule in seeker sensitive circles. This damage is undeniable and the alternative is to preach all of scripture, even the verses about women inn pulpits, hell, repentance, wrath, sin and judgment alongside everything else, and to once again recapture the beauty, majesty, wonder, holiness and love of God through how people used to preach… including Jonathan Edwards, Spurgeon, Whitfield, John Stott, John Macarthur & John Piper today.

    Keep posting. It’s making me think and raising some valid points.

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  3. Hello Luke,

    I’ve been thinking of your comments above all day (on and off – there’s work to be done!) and are a bit hesitant in
    how to respond on a public blog. Nevertheless….

    I grew up in the Assemblies of God until age 16. I know what you’ve been in and what you’ve left, my father was a deacon in a large AOG in Sydney. Moved into Baptist Union circles, had a time in an evangelical Anglican church, moved back to a Baptist Union church then into a Reformed Baptist church. Trained as a church planter with a RB Missionary Society in the US. Fought a war, lost. Currently attend a non-denominational but Gospel-centred tiny speck of a fellowship with 3 other families. I am chief Under-shepherd of a wife and 8 children aged 15 to 2 and am not called on to preach or teach or lead.

    It has taken many years of hard study, lots of mistakes, vicious scars, wars, battles and a general grinding to powder by the Lord to get to the spot I am. No ambition to be ‘the leader’, I know I am not qualified by the Scriptures and am weaker than I even know. Yes, I was one of the ‘calvinists’ that took heads off other Christians in the early days of the ‘new calvinism’ with my ‘zeal’. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, I commend you for treading very carefully.

    Soteriology: Doctrines of Grace – I hold all 5 points as per the Council of Dort in Holland. It took that body 6 months of intense debate with the Remonstrance to come up with the 5 answers to the points put against it. It took me almost a year to fully study it, both sides. That doesn’t mean I’m right, but all 5 together (TULIP) have the strongest Biblical argument as far as I can see. I know you have a view on the L, but the Council dismissed unlimited atonement as heresy and they have a very strong argument regarding coherence and Scripture. Not totally watertight….but a far stronger argument than what Jacob Arminius brought.

    Baptism: Believers only. Yet, the vast majority of the Church dunk the kids. I take a very strong view that this error has the potential to cause great harm but I will not cut people off for it! It does not have the power for the children as they think. I reject the Lutheran view that faith for the child can be done by proxy and that the child is regenerated at baptism.

    Lord Supper: Yes we should do this! I am in a small minority as you can see, so to avoid offense I quietly go with the ritual and thank God for the fellowship. What else can be done? (shrugs shoulders)

    Ecclesiology and Polity: Plural male eldership, congregational accountability.

    Eschatology: Classical Pre-millenial (as opposed to pre trib rapture, pre-tribulational pre millenial).

    Orthopraxis: Heavily influenced by Anabaptist thought. A credible discipleship is essential – I utterly reject the doctrine of the “perpetually Carnal Christian”.

    On the point regarding tradition, no, I was not tired of tradition – tradition makes things easy and you get along with more people if you follow it! Rather, when training for church planting, the questions start to flow. Why do we do this or that? What authority? What will the nutters and crazies who often sneak in at the start of a new fellowship going to bring up – what barrow are they pushing? What does the Bible really say and mean? What should the church be like and how should it function according to Scripture – and recheck and check again how much is tradition and culture influencing how I’m seeing things?

    Caution for you: A love of doctrine is a good thing, but every movement has its heroes. Plenty love the best communicator with the best self esteem message and the biggest churches. The post modern emergents love those with the cool gear, the funkiest rituals, the most ‘social justice’, those how can generate the best ‘conversation’. The Reformed guys love the men with the biggest heads, with the biggest brains, who know a lot of ‘stuff’ and can preach a 5 course meal at the drop of a hat – they are the heros.

    If your ‘love of knowledge and doctrine’ does not have a radical closing of the gap between your functional theology (how you live your life in the real world of family, work, human relationships) and your professed theology (the set of biblical doctrines and facts you can recite and explain) then you have Reformed disease. Gather all the knowledge you can. Study hard and know BOTH sides of a discussion on doctrine, take the stronger one as you see it by conscience….then LIVE IT.

    The Pharasees knew the Scriptures a thousand times better than you could possibly imagine or obtain….and they went to Hell.

    Last point, yes I have encountered the Messanic – Torah – Hebrew Roots movement. I agree with completely, out of the frying pan into the fire. HOWEVER, big caution, Paul in Romans says to be careful about where Gentile believers fit into the ‘olive tree’…a complete and well rounded understanding of Jewish thought, belief and God’s special love for Jewish people (…because of their forefathers…) means we should be to. I’ve met Jewish people who believe in Jesus and it always makes me smile remembering God’s grace to me and to them – I outside the Covenenats with no hope and without God, them having crucified their King…and yet grace to us both! Wonderful!

    Already too long, I’ll stop there. Again, if you’d like to catch up for a coffee I work in the town you live full time, let me know. Or not, or else I’ll try to keep my posts a bit more brief.

    D.

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