What is the Church? 10 Things the Bible Says About the Church

Cornerstone Church at Lee-Scott Open Air Worship Service
Cornerstone Church at Lee-Scott Open Air Worship Service

Over the past several years of seminary work I have had the privilege of studying the church. There are a lot of different answers to that question (just look how many different churches there are in this country). Yesterday was our first open-air outdoor worship service at our Cornerstone Lee-Scott site. Not because we all wanted to sit in the sun and fry, but because they were refinishing the hard wood floors in the basketball gym where we worship, but it ended up being a fantastic service, and a great reminder to all of us what exactly we mean when we say we are “going to church.” Today our churches can be places that become so internalized with our own events and “church life” we don’t even realize we have stopped living out Matthew 28:16-20. So yesterday, as we sat out in the heat, we got a good reminder that church is not a building, or a gym, or a place to “go,” but a people we serve with.

I think those in my generation and older are still quite set that we “go to church” at a church building, and that was just never the case with the New Testament Church. Our site pastor, Josh Agerton, gave a very appropriate message on this very topic, to discuss what misconceptions we bring to the word “ekklesia.” This word, ekklesia, meaning local church, was established by Christ Himself (Matt. 16:18), and then we see it in action for the first time in Acts 1:12 when Matthias was chosen to replace Judas.

I love that our particular church is willing to do things like worship in a gym, or outside on a hot day, to better reach our community for Christ. Our culture today tends to the Bible with tradition, and personal preference, to create these glorious buildings we can go hide in from cradle to grave in some cases. Clearly, God’s plan is that born again Christians be a part of a local church. Nowhere in the New Testament, after the institution of the local church was established, do you find believers serving God outside the authority or rule of the local church.

So what are a few things the bible says about the church? This top ten list below is no where near a complete and total list, nor is it compiled into any specific symmetry, but it does show what the Bible says about the Church. Notice there are a TON of things the Bible doesn’t say the church should that we have made it out to be (but that is a whole different post).

10 Things the Bible Says About the Church

  1. The Bible is the Sole Authority
    There is no only authority for the New Testament church other than that of Scripture for the faith and practice of a True New Testament Church. (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21; John 5:39 and many others).
  2. Believers are Instructed Not to Forsake Meeting Together
    If a believer is not part of a local church, whatever form that takes today, is in disobedience to God’s word. Scripture clearly teaches we are to meet or “assemble” with each other periodically. When the church meets, we should be there to support it (Hebrews 10:24-25).
  3. Believers are to be Under the Leadership of the Pastor and Church
    This is so difficult for us today, especially in the U.S.A. where we are told we are our own authority in everything we do. We are supposed submit to the authority of the church, and be lead by it’s leadership (Acts 20:28; 13:2).
  4. The New Testament Church is Only Made Up of Saved Individuals
    This is clearly indicated in Scripture as well. The church body is not made up of secular people as with any other civil club, members are believers, that’s it (Acts 2:41, 47).
  5. The New Testament Church Has Only Two Ordinances
    The Lord’s Supper and Baptism, which are not sacraments, are the only two ordinances called for in Scripture (Acts 2:41-42). We have a lot of other traditions and things that take place in the church, but these are the only two ordinances Scriptures calls for.
  6. All Believers are Placed in the Local Church upon their Baptism (Acts 1:15; 2:47)
  7. Believers are to Learn Doctrine in the Local Church
    For those of us who love to learn Scripture, here we go, but our culture today is moving more and more towards an anti-intellectualism, which is no more Biblical than forsaking the widows and orphans. This also means the local church is supposed to TEACH doctrine as well (Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Corinthians 12;  2 Timothy 4:1-4; Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 5:25; Acts 20:28).
  8. A Believer’s Responsibility to Missions as part of a Local Church
    A believer ought to be a part of supporting missions through their local church. The clear New Testament example is that it was the local church which sent forth missionaries. No church has the authority to delegate this responsibility to anyone else which would include mission boards, conventions, or any agency outside the local congregation (Acts 15:3, 20:38, 21:5, Rom. 15:24, 1 Cor. 16:6,11, 2 Cor. 1:16, Titus 3:13, 3 John 6).
  9. If One Member Suffers All Suffer With Them
    The local church is the support center of people to surround the believer in good times and in bad (1 Corinthians 12:26).
  10. Believers are Given the Responsibility and Privilege of Supporting the Local Church Financially
    There are probably more ways to get out of this than there are ways to count, but Scripture clearly says we are to financially support our local church, and it says this clearly and unequivocally that we are to give money to our local church, even Abraham did this. (1 Cor. 16:1-2, 2 Cor. 8-9)
On a practical level, what is the church? These shots below are just a very few examples of where our church assembled for fellowship yesterday. But this location at Lee-Scott Academy is not where the church is, the church is dispersed all throughout our city and county, this is just where we met yesterday.

What's More Useful to the Glory of God Than 95% of All We Do?

Amos 9:5-6

I’m guessing you didn’t think poetry was the answer to the question in the title, but it is. Poetic language and the language of prose put together in a sentence is sort of a misnomer, since they basically mean the opposite, but such is my relationship with metric and non-metrical language. Over the years I have tried to study poetry here and there, written some, read some, and every once in a while, appreciated some. I seem to have this back and forth argument with myself on the importance of poetry. In one respect, I find it useless, confusing, hard to understand, and not worth the time to learn. On the other, I do find it speaks to all aspects of life, and could be more important in affecting change than much of what we do in our every day lives. A post on Desiring God called Piper and the Role of Poetry in the Christian Life says it like this:

Poetry is not the answer, but it is a greater part of the answer than 95% of what we do with our time. Woe to me if I think souls are saved by me or them becoming poetic. But few are damned by it. And of the thousand things we fill our days with, this could be more useful to the glory of God than what we do most of the time.

So according to Piper, and some may disagree, poetry is more useful to the glory of God (the very purpose of our existence says 1 Peter 4:11), than of large majority of our other endeavors in life, or put differently how we spend our time. This is actually a pretty bold statement if taken at face value with no context. To understand this statement, it’s important to look at what else we do with our time, and how if at all, those things are more or less useful to the glory of God than poetry. I suspect many would say that statement is absurd, and dismiss it altogether, but God himself doesn’t do that.

Of course a great deal of Scripture is poetry. So that tells me right there that God finds poetry important, regardless of what I think. Some of the greatest poets in history were writers of Scripture. Of course being inspired I would say they had a little help, otherwise how in the world could any individual mind come up with and make Psalm 119 work other than God? If you have never attempted to create a perfectly metered acrostic (forget one the size of Psalm 119), try it, you will quickly see it isn’t all that easy.

To answer the question I posed in the title I think can only be answered by someone who has a great deal of knowledge about poetry, and can define its worth. For many of us, we just don’t have a strong enough understanding to say one way or another. Our time isn’t readily filled with words on a page in metric meter, it’s more filled with screens presenting video and media. This all got started from a quick read through Amos 9.5-6, which is an incredible short piece of inspired poetry.

Biblical Basis Question for Vacation Bible School :: VBS

This, like other posts on this particular blog, are unfinished thoughts, and this one is beyond unfinished. This time of year, churches all across the country are going to great lengths to setup for their versions of VBS. As the chaotic week arrived, I asked the stupid question, “What is the Biblical basis for VBS?” Apparently that is not a proper question to ask when VBS is only a few days away, though I think it is deserving of a theological response nonetheless.

In my inquiry, I asked 6 people around the country I know, which came to be the widest range of people in the greater universal church I could find, and only one could answer my question. I asked a College Pastor, a Music Leader/Pastor, a Children’s Director, a seminary student, a Senior Pastor at a small Baptist church, and a homeschooling mom. Now it was pointed out to me that there is never a bad time to teach children about God’s word, and about Jesus. This is true. But not a single one could give me a reason, based from Scripture, why we put on these elaborate shows and productions for VBS, other than we have always done it, or it’s fun, or “VBS is great!”

For the typical church staff, it can be one of the most stressful times of the year. For parents, some are looking for a place to just dump their kids for a few hours during the summer, for the kids, it’s a big party. None of that is inherently bad, but is it something the church body should put so much money and effort into each summer? I guess we are at the point in society where we have to make things multimedia enough for the kids to even pay attention. No kid is going to sit and listen to the word of the Lord without a band and a screen of some type glowing in the background.

What does this say about how do worship today? What does this say about our kids, about our skills as parents, or best of all, what does it say about our understanding of Scripture, and what the Bible instructs us to do? VBS may fit into some nice church mold where a Biblical basis can be made for our elaborate productions, but no one as of yet has been able to explain to me the exegetical, hermeneutical history, or any other actual Biblical basis for VBS, other than the general, kids should be taught the Bible [format notwithstanding i guess]. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not just bashing VBS across the board, there is a great need today to teach our children about Christ, but maybe that’s all there is to it and there doesn’t need to be some higher theological explanation for VBS. I’m still going to ask the question because it just needs to be asked.

A Look at The Pericope Adulterae from John 7:53-8:11

christ-and-the-adulteress

I was quite troubled the first time I heard someone say, years ago at this point, that the story about Jesus and the woman caught in adultery was not inspired Scripture, and thus didn’t belong in the Bible. Of course it troubled me, but I did nothing about trying to understand why this story was in my Bible (though in brackets). Back in March 2011 Piper did a sermon on this passage (Neither Do I Condemn You), usually called in scholastic writings, The Pericope Adulterae, where the explanation started to make a little more sense.

A few weeks ago I finally got around to doing my own research on the topic, and my basic overall conclusion is listed below. To see the entire argument if you so desire just go to my Writing Section or click here for the PDF called The Pericope Adulterae: An Exegetical Examination of the Canonicity and Meaning of John 7:53-8:11.

Even though this account of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery most likely did not appear in the original writings of John’s Gospel, it does not affect any significant doctrine within the whole of Scripture.  Some teachers may wish to exclude this section from reproof because of these issues, but whether a modern day pastor or teacher chooses to include or exclude the pericope, the wisdom of Jesus can be found in other areas of Scripture to support the statements within this passage.  As such, many applications of forgiveness, judgmental attitudes, and repentance can be gleened from the pericope, much in the same way the Didascalia Apostolorum used the story to “bring repentant sinners back into the congregation.”[1]

Issues such as judgmentalism and sin on a large scale can destroy communities and nations, and on a smaller scale, can destroy “marriages, families, and churches.”[2]  We have almost countless opportunities in our post-modern culture to extend grace, especially when it comes to our marriages, families, and our churches.  How many congregations have split because of a spirit among members who are quick to judge, and slow to extend grace?  The pericope adulterae, a floating, somewhat “homeless passage,” which probably needs some grace extended to it as well, provides an additional opportunity to reiterate teachings found in many other parts of the New Testament.[3]  It may not be an original part of John’s gospel, but this story “points us to the message of the whole New Testament.”[4]  Ultimately the pericopepoints us to Jesus, who not only gives us grace beyond what we deserve, grace is given by the only One who, without sin, can actually cast the first stone, but does not.


[1] Michael W. Holmes, ed., The Apostolic Fathers in English, 3rd Edition, ed. Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic), 304-305. This edition was translated and edited by Michael W. Holmes after the earlier version by J. B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer.

[2] Roberta C. Bondi, To Pray and to Love: Conversations on Prayer with the Early Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1991), 109.

[3] Frances Taylor Gench, “John 7:53-8:11,” Interpretation (Academic OneFile) 63, no. 4 (October 2009): 400.

[4] John Piper, “Neither Do I Condemn You”.

Heavenly Wisdom vs Earthly Wisdom :: James 3:13-18

A few weeks ago I was given the privilege of preparing a short message on James 3:13-18 for our series on the book of James, which is the small section at the end of James 3 on wisdom as it pertains to the taming of the tongue. The entire message is available on PDF at Heavenly Wisdom vs Earthly Wisdom :: James 3:13-18 or you can go to my writing section and find it there as well.

After reading this little section on James over and over and over again, and studying it as best I could, I have really come to love the words of wisdom found in James 3:13-18.  At the end of James 3, in a chapter almost entirely dedicated to taming the tongue, we come across this small section, which almost appears to be thrown in by James as an afterthought on wisdom. While it may seem out of place at first, James knew it was not intelligence, or great knowledge, which could tame the tongue, but wisdom, a heavenly wisdom found in “humility, grace and peace” (BKC, 828). There is just no other way to control the tongue than with a heavenly wisdom from above.

James 3:13-18 is a story of wisdom presented as two completely different sides of the same coin, one that we still see played out in our world today. On one side of the wisdom coin, we have a heavenly wisdom from above, which is full of mercy and peace. On the other side, we have an earthly wisdom, which is characterized by jealousy, envy, pride, and selfish ambition. James says seeking after a heavenly wisdom results in an abundance of God’s peace in our lives, while seeking after earthly wisdom, leads to disorder, and “every vile practice” we could possibly conceive.

Our own culture thrives on this earthly wisdom to fulfill the “American Dream” by “looking out for number one,” or “climbing that corporate latter,” and in using our abilities and knowledge to gain an advantage over someone else.  Obtaining more earthly wisdom, whether it comes from our latest smart phone, music, movies, or from the most esteemed pastor we know, doesn’t help to control the tongue. Earthly wisdom might temporarily satisfy our desire to outdo our brother, but rarely will this show God’s love. We probably all know people who have accumulated vast sums of knowledge, which can impress us with fancy arguments, competition, or rivalry. But I can still find this in myself as well, buried deep in my heart where many sins can reside without ever seeing the light of day.

So what is the difference between heavenly wisdom and earthly wisdom? James gives us a great way to test ourselves for Heavenly wisdom, and it sounds unlike what we normally hear in many other parts of Scripture, it comes from our behavior. At some point, knowledge can turn into heavenly wisdom through proper application of living out our lives manifested in our actions. What this means is heavenly wisdom will be seen by our conduct through humility, and meekness, not by gaining vast sums of knowledge, or in our ability to outdo one another. We can ask ourselves, are we gaining in the wisdom of God? Apart from a true desire to walk in a manner pleasing to God, no one really has true wisdom, and without true wisdom, we have little hope of taming our tongue.

I sometimes have a tendency to argue my point with just about anyone who will listen. This only solidifies my understanding of how difficult it is for a tamed tongue to coincide with an earthly wisdom, which James even calls demonic. If heavenly wisdom is applying knowledge properly, according to God’s will, how do we really know we have achieved wisdom from above at all? We know we have the wise answer, the response of wisdom, because it won’t be argumentative, contentious, or self-seeking. It will be gentle and peacemaking, and clearly seen by others through our actions in Godly behavior.

Is True Christianity Represented on CNN, Discovery, and History Channel?

CNN Belief Blog

Can we really know the true meaning of Christianity today? The answer of course, is an emphatic yes, of course we can, but the answer always seems to change depending on who you ask. Our culture is filled with blogs and news articles like the CNN “Belief Blog” and the Washington Post “On Faith” section, which constantly adjust the meaning of Christianity to suit their own needs, mostly to be politically correct. Make no mistake, these are secular institutions, writing for a single collective purpose and goal in mind, to make a monetary profit. These are businesses, and in business to make money (nothing wrong with that).

These news blogs ask good theological questions like Are Mormons Christians?, because they are hot-button topics, but they often give politically correct answers, ones rarely correct to true Christianity. The Mormon question is a great example, where the press wants to find some way for Christianity to accept Mormons as Christians. If they knew the differences between Christianity and what the Mormon’s say they believe, they would understand why this is just never going to happen (see a good article A Comparison Between Christian Doctrine and Mormon Doctrine). To a learned Christian, Mormons will never be considered “Christians,” even if the Mormon’s say they are, and that is just one small hot topic today of thousands.

I love the Discovery Channel series “Who is Jesus,” and the History Channel’s The Shroud of Turin, but taking serious Christian spiritual or doctrinal advise from these places would be like determining the true meaning of Christianity via the Discovery Channel and History Channel. Sadly, I’m guessing this is where many people in our culture today decide what true Christianity is and isn’t.

The truth of Christianity of course is only found from Scripture, period. If that’s so can a true biblical view also be presented to our culture by means of a secular for-profit company? I think Charles Schultz was one of the first to try and answer that question in our current day when he had Linus read from the book of Luke. After reading another blog post this morning asking “Can we really know the true meaning of Christianity today?”, it made me think… how quickly could you/we/me answer the question? Would the answer come from our deep seeded bias’ we all carry, or would it be a Biblical answer?

There are almost countless ways to answer that question in truth, but here are two quick ways to explain the true and real meaning of Christianity. It’s simple… we make it complex.

  • John 13:35 Jesus says :: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (something also expanded on by Paul in Romans 12:9-21)
  • Romans 10:9-10 Paul says: That is the outpouring of our decision for Christ… “because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved”

Those are just two quick ways to answer that question, there are many more.

Lent Has Brought Us To This Maundy Thursday Prayer

Maundy Thursday Chalkboard Prayer Vigil

Every year, on this day, Maundy Thursday, we come to the Lord in prayer, as Jesus did with his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. On that night, Jesus asked his disciples to watch and pray… because our spirit is willing, but our flesh is weak (Matthew 26:36-46), and then Jesus was betrayed by one of his own inner circle friends. Every year at our church is slightly different, but each year, this evening is set aside for prayer, the Lord’s supper, and meditation on what our Lord went through on Good Friday. I love that image above from last year (see also Messages from the Heart to God in Chalk Board Prayers :: Photos) where everyone wrote their prayers in chalk as they moved through the night.

I looked back over and read some of my journal entries from that night a few years ago, and it’s amazing what that great spiritual discipline of meditation can do for the soul.  In my entry from 2009 I wrote this sentence after being there for an hour or so.

It is almost impossible to wrap your mind around what everything here tonight represents in history. I understand nothing, but I love what I don’t understand.

There are only a few more days of Lent for 2012, today being Day 44 (if you count Sunday’s), and our reading today came from the Book of Common Prayer (only $2.99 on Kindle by the way). Something I don’t get a chance to read all that often, but love its wisdom.

Almighty God, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

May that be the prayer for today.

Though Your Sins are Like Scarlet Only Christ Can Atone :: Isaiah 1:18-20

Book of Isaiah

I am in the middle of reading three different reading plans from YouVersion (I rotate reading from one particular plan each day), and today in the Canonical Plan started the book of Isaiah. I put off starting the book for a week or two because of its depth and heaviness, but today was the day. This is one of my favorite Old Testament books, probably because it is one that I understand the least, but three verses really stuck with me, Isaiah 1:18, 19, and 20.

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.

At first I just read that above and moved on. I love that “let us reason together,” but if we stop there we miss the point. There is a decision to be made for that statement to come to pass on our lives, and it’s from verse 18, “if you are willing and obedient,” and verse 19, “but if you refuse and rebel.”

The decision is for Christ, and without Christ, verse 18 will never come to pass. The word from the Lord is a simple, yet a profound, if-then statement. Our sins will be forgiven if we trust and obey. This of course is not a full and complete exegetical look at verse 18-20, but at the start of this Holy Week, the incredible fact of Isaiah and the rest of Scripture is it all points to the saving work of Christ, done on the cross, which we traditionally observe starting on Thursday with a Maundy Thursday prayer vigil (see last year) followed by Good Friday.

Ash Wednesday Breaking Routines with a Lenten Reader

It’s already that time of year, Lent is here. Today is Ash Wednesday (see also history), marking the beginning of the season of Lent, which then takes us to the Passion and into Easter. There are many things our church does that I really like and producing a Lenten Reader for the past few years is one of them. It is such a great tool, especially how we use it in our particular church, where it ties each day of the week to the message being taught on Sunday.

If your church doesn’t put out a Lenten Reader there are plenty of other options, YouVersion has two great Lenten Reader plans, Lent For Everyone and 40 Days of Lent. A Lenten reader is more than just a daily devotional, it is intended to be a meditation, a call, to pull us out of our daily routine and refocus our lives back to Christ and His sacrifice. Lent is more than a time of self-denial, it is a time we can use to get back to the spiritual disciplines like worship, confession, meditation, fasting, study, and prayer.

In our culture of busyness to excess, these disciplines become the most expendable. When time is short, these are either the first to go, or denied their proper place at all, and a Lenten Reader is a great way to pull ourselves back into the fold. Our American culture seems to have no problem celebrating the over indulgence of Fat-Tuesday, (see a great post by Beeson titled, Fat Tuesday And We’re Running Out of Options) but there is rarely a mention of the ashes of repentance on Wednesday. Ultimately, even though the world may not take notice, we do, and we look through this season of Lent, and the next 47 days, to celebrating the greatest event even known to history, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Necessity of Prayer by E.M. Bounds Book Review

Below is a short review of a book I just finished called The Necessity of Prayer by E.M. Bounds. It can be read for free here, or on Amazon over here, or even on audiobook over here. If you want the real real short version then pick up this book and read it, it is fantastic, and only takes about 3-4 hours to read.

E.M. Bounds was a man of prayer. Prayer to Bounds was said to be such “a physical reality” that the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “pray without ceasing,” was taken as literally as humanly possible. Prayer was said to be as important to Bounds as breathing, and he lived his life accordingly.[1] Bounds had much to pray for as a “Civil War Chaplin and then POW” in Saint Louis, MO before the Civil War ended.[2] As a result of his lifetime of work, The Necessity of Prayer survives to the present day providing spiritual guidance in prayer “for a lifetime of water-drawing.”[3]

Critique and Interaction

The Necessity of Prayer was compiled from Bounds’ manuscripts after his death and is broken up into fourteen short chapters. Within the fourteen chapters are ten discourses about prayer, and how it pertains to faith, trust, desire, fervency, importunity, character, obedience, vigilance, the Word of God, and the House of God. Each chapter has a short introduction quote given by a leader in prayer or from an anonymous, but relevant, source.

Bounds does not start out with spiritual milk, gradually introducing the subject (1 Corinthians 3:2), but rather the author starts immediately with meat, and an in-depth look at prayer and faith. Within the opening chapters on faith Bounds relies heavily on Scripture showing how God’s word is the foundation of prayer. Example after example is given, showing how he drew conclusions, even when it came to those with a lack of faith and prayer such as Asa.[4] Bounds then moves into examples from Elijah, Daniel, and Christ himself, all of who prayed repeatedly, trusting that the Father had heard their requests.[5] As Bounds moves through the different sections he weaves a pattern, which fuses prayer, God’s Word, and each of his ten points until he proves that “prayer should enter into and underlie everything that is undertaken.”[6]  For Bounds this is not just a concept to be studied, this was played out in practical instruction. He admonishes those in ministry who want to be successful to spend twice as long in prayer as they do in the study of Scripture.[7]

Conclusion

E.M. Bounds’ The Necessity of Prayer is a foundation for prayer, and one that should be a priority for any Christian wishing to understand the practicalities of prayer. This publication is written is such a way that any lay-person can read, understand, and glean its wisdom, and any scholar can continue to gain insight for years to come. Bounds relies so heavily on Scripture that his conclusions are less about a personal opinion on prayer and more about understanding the will of God for His people through prayer. There are few modern pastors who seemed to have been more focused on understanding prayer, and as a result, Bounds has given God’s people a call to prayer. “No man loves the Bible, who does not love to pray. No man loves to pray, who does not delight in the law of the Lord.”[8] Bounds uses Jesus in Luke 4:16 to prove this, and then concludes “no two things are more essential to a spirit-filled life than Bible-reading and secret prayer,” and neglecting these two things gives the “Evil One” a great advantage.[9]


[1] E.M. Bounds, The Necessity of Prayer (Radford, VA: Wilder Publications, 2008), ii.
[2] David Smithers, “The Life of E. M. Bounds, What Others Say About E.M. Bounds: Prayer Makes History,” Jehova.net, http://jehova.net/bounds/bounds-biography.htm.
[3] Bounds, ii.
[4] Ibid, 33.
[5] Ibid, 37.
[6] Ibid, 78-79.
[7] Ibid, 80.
[8] Ibid, 75.
[9] Ibid.