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The previous post in this series, The Church and Discipleship, can be found here: https://memoirandremains.wordpress.com/2013/10/25/the-church-is-a-creation/

The New Covenant People of God (Part 1)

The New Covenant People of God: The Universal Church; Leadership in the Local Church

The church exists in a covenantal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This new covenant is established by God and God alone with his covenant partners, or Christ-followers who have heard the gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, have repented of their sins, have embraced Jesus Christ by faith, have been baptized in the name of the triune God, have received forgiveness of their sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, and have been incorporated into the church of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:22-47). By means of this covenant, God binds himself to his covenant partners, who in turn observe binding obligations toward him. To the church Christ has given two signs of this covenant relationship: baptism, the sign of entrance into the new covenant relationship with God and into the covenant community, the church; and the Lord’s Supper, the sign of ongoing new covenant relationship with God and the covenant community, the church.[1]

We will begin our consideration of what it means for the church to be a party to the New Covenant with God through Jesus Christ, by considering the aspects of the covenant which may be the most obvious to us in our life in the church: we are in relationship with one-another, because we are in relationship with God in Jesus Christ:

As P.T. Forsyth urged, “the same act which sat us in Christ sets us also in the society of Christ.  It does ipso facto, and not be a mere consequence or sequel, more or less optional. To be in Christ is in the same act to be in the Church …. It puts us into relation with all saints which we may neglect to our bane but which we cannot destroy.”[2]

Thus, the covenantal structures which concern the church are the Church to God in Christ, and the members of the church to one-another. 

The relationship of the members of the church is our membership in the universal church, and our relationships in the local assembly of the church.

 

 

I.          Our Relationship to the Universal Church

A.  If one is in Christ, then one is in the church.

1.   The church began at Pentecost and includes all human beings of any place or any time who are in Christ. Therefore, no Christian can possibly “leave the Church”. Now, those who are not Christians can leave the visible assembly of believers; but such persons were never in the church, because they were never in Christ. Those who are Christians can leave a particular local assembly, but they cannot leave the church.

2.  Therefore, our relationships to the universal church are real and substantial in Christ by the power of the Spirit.  The Body of Christ is all Christians at all times. The church is a vine which is all Christians at all times:

There is a church of which they are a part and that there is only one church, in some important sense: holy, as distinct from the world; catholic, as include true believers everywhere of every age from the apostles onward; and apostolic, in the sense of founded by apostles and as faithfully teaching living out apostolic doctrines.[3] 

And:

We are liberty to affirm that all believers everywhere, when they become believers, enter into the same event. All Christians are joined to Christ’s body in the same. There is only Spirit. Through vital union with Him believers are constituted one divine universal, spiritual body just as the natural body of a man is a natural vital union through the natural life within it.[4]

Chrysostom, preaching on 1 Corinthians 1:1-3 explains:

“In every place, both theirs and ours.” For although the letter be written to the Corinthians only, yet he makes mention of all the faithful that are in all the earth; showing that the Church throughout the world must be one, however separate in divers places; and much more, that in Corinth. And though the place separate, the Lord binds them together, being common to all. Wherefore also uniting them he adds, “both theirs and ours.” And this is far more powerful [to unite], than the other [to separate]. For as men in one place, having many and contrary masters, become distracted, and their one place helps them not to be of one mind, their masters giving orders at variance with each other, and drawing each their own way, according to what Christ says, (St. Matt. 6:24) “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon;” so those in different places, if they have not different lords but one only, are not by the places injured in respect of unanimity, the One Lord binding them together. “I say not then, (so he speaks,) that with Corinthians only, you being Corinthians ought to be of one mind, but with all that are in the whole world, inasmuch as you have a common Master.” This is also why he hath a second time added “our;” for since he had said, “the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord,” lest he should appear to the inconsiderate to be making a distinction, he subjoins again, “both our Lord and theirs.”

[3.] That my meaning may be clearer, I will read it according to its sense thus: “Paul and Sosthenes to the Church of God which is in Corinth and to all who call upon the Name of Him who is both our Lord and theirs in every place, whether in Rome or wheresoever else they may be: grace unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”[5]

B.   Although we would all affirm that such is true in principle, we find it very easy to forget this in fact. 

1.   First, we may forget that other Christians are exactly as much within Christ as any of us. The most important thing about us is that we are in Christ. Therefore, all of our relationships must be filtered through the fact that we are in Christ. This means a Christian in Ecuador is as much my brother as you.

2.  Second, that means that relationships within the body of Christ supersede our kinship. That does not mean that ignore the obligations of kinship. We cannot divorce an unbeliever, unless the unbeliever wants the divorce. We must honor our parents; irrespective of their salvation. We must raise our children, even though they are born unregenerate. However, our obligations to Christ supersede our obligations to even our closest relationships.  Matthew 10:37. 

3.  Third, that means that the incidentals of our personal relationships are not as great as are likely to make them. Due to our finitude, we can only establish and maintain relationships with a limited number of people. However, the ultimate basis my relationship to as a member of the body of Christ is our relationship to Christ. That means that your relationship to someone you have never yet seen with your eyes, still joins you a true unity of the Spirit – provided that you are both in Christ.

C.        This congregation of believers, scattered through space and time, is only a temporary aspect of the church. The current dispersion of the elect across the world will be remedied after Christ returns:

Revelation 5:9–14 (ESV)

9 And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll

and to open its seals,

for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

from every tribe and language and people and nation,

10  and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

and they shall reign on the earth.”

11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,

to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might

and honor and glory and blessing!”

13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb

be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

 

When you think of the church, you have a tendency to think of those people you happen to know who congregate at some particular location. Perhaps you think more broadly of the assemblies you have visited; perhaps you generously think of missionaries you have met.  But when you think of the church, you should not think of anything which you have seen. Rather, set before your eyes the glory of this scene: the ransomed in glory around the throne, singing in the midst of angels and living creatures and wonders – and in the midst of this the Lord himself.

Those who only knew Jesus as he grew up in Nazareth never saw the marvel of his ministry on earth. And those who sought his death never saw the wonder of his resurrection. But we who have been ransomed by him will see the glory of his person in perfect beauty and worship.

 

II.         The Relationships within the Local Congregation

A.   We cannot stand in immediate relationship to the entire universal church.

B.   The church in this state of “already but not yet” can only exist in local congregations.

C. The local congregations of believers are a gift of God which permits us to realize certain benefits and beauties of the universal church.

D. The local congregations of the church are the place in which we come as disciples of Jesus Christ to both grow as disciples and to make disciples. Indeed, we are each today Christians because thousand and millions upon millions of men and women before us became disciples of Jesus Christ and thereafter made disciples of Jesus Christ.

E.   The relationships within the congregation can be analyzed in a number of ways. We are going to examine three aspects of the relationships:

1.   The individual relationships of each believer toward one-another.

2.   The relationship of each person to the local congregation as a whole (church membership).

3.   The relationship of each person in the congregation to the leaders of the congregation, and the leaders to the congregation.

 

III.        The Relationship of the Leaders to the Congregation.

A.   The New Testament discusses positions of leadership within the congregation of believers:

1.   1 Timothy 3:1 refers to the leadership as “overseers”.

2.  Titus 1:5 refers to the leadership as “elders”.

3.   Hebrews 13:7 & 17 refer to them as “leaders”.

4.  Romans 12:8 & 1 Thessalonians 5:12 refer to those who lead, guide, direct.

5.   1 Peter 5:1-3 refers to “elders” who “shepherd the flock” and who do not “lord over” them.

6.   1 Corinthians 4:1, “stewards” (Colossians 1:25, Titus 1:7).

7.   Ephesians 4:11 as “pastor teachers”.

B.   We have previously established that the church is created by the Spirit of God using the Word of God. That means that Christian faith has a propositional content. There are words which must be received and believed to be a Christian.

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:14–17 (ESV)

      1.   When Jesus gives the commission to the disciples, he tell them to teach the coming disciples “to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).

      2.   We read of the apostles referring to propositional instruction which forms the basis of the church’s function. Paul reminds Timothy of the “pattern of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13); and a “deposit entrusted” to the church (1 Timothy 6:20). Jude writes of “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).  Peter writes a letter to church, “so that after my departure, you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 1:15).

      3.   Leaders are those who have the primary responsibility for providing this instruction. The leader brings these words to the congregation.

C. Human beings are by nature in need of instruction/counsel. It was this way even before the Fall. The first bit of information which we learn that God communicated to human beings was that Adam must not eat from a particular tree (Genesis 2:16-17). Jay Adams explains:

Man was created perfect, but that does not mean that he was ever able to live on his own. Perfection itself implies an acknowledgment of his dependence upon God’s revelation. By counsel (he didn’t decide to do it on his own) Adam named the animals. By counsel he dressed the garden. By counsel he learned of the trees in the garden and the proper use of them (as well as the possible consequences of misuse). All this came after creation, to man who was made to be dependent on God’s counsel for all his life, and who was capable of being changed and developed by that counsel.

That is the first crucial factor to grasp at the outset: man was created in such a way that for his own good, and God’s glory, it was necessary to depend upon divine counsel and to be changed by it.[6]

D. Pilgrim’s Progress opens with Christian in a state of turmoil. It is only when Evangelist shows up that Christian learns what he must do (proceed to the gate). Later, Christian finds himself in trouble, and Evangelist again shows up to give direction to Christian. In the Palace Beautiful, Christian receives instruction in the Christian life. In particular, Christian spends time with Interpreter. One of the matters which Christian learns is how to identify a guide:

Then said the Interpreter, Come in; I will show thee that which will be profitable to thee. So he commanded his Man to light the Candle, and bid Christian follow him; so he had him into a private room, and bid his Man open a door; the which when he had done, Christian saw the picture of a very grave person hang up against the wall; and this was the fashion of it; it had eyes lifted up to Heaven, the best of Books in his hand, the Law of Truth was written upon his lips, the World was behind his back; it stood as if it pleaded with Men, and a Crown of gold did hang over its head.

Then said Christian, What meaneth this?

Int. The Man whose picture this is, is one of a thousand: he can beget children, travail in birth with children, and nurse them himself when they are born. (1 Co. 4:15. Gal. 4:19.) And whereas thou seest him with his eyes lift up to Heaven, the best of Books in his hand, and the Law of Truth writ on his lips, it is to show thee, that his work is to know and unfold dark things to sinners; even as also thou seest him stand as if he pleaded with men. And whereas thou seest the World as cast behind him, and that a Crown hangs over his head, that is to show thee, that, slighting and despising the things that are present, for the love that he hath to his Master’s service, he is sure, in the world that comes next, to have glory for his reward. Now, said the Interpreter, I have showed thee this picture first, because the Man whose picture this is, is the only man whom the Lord of the place, whither thou art going, hath authorized to be thy guide in all difficult places thou mayest meet with in the way: wherefore, take good heed to what I have showed thee, and bear well in thy mind what thou hast seen, lest, in thy journey, thou meet with some that pretend to lead thee right; but their way goes down to Death.

E.   The leadership has the duty to lead. And they will give an account for their leadership.

1.   Hebrews 13 twice speaks of leaders.

7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Hebrews 13:7 (ESV)

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Hebrews 13:17 (ESV)

2.   Just as Interpreter provided Christian with a description of a true guide, here Hebrews provides us with the elements of a true leader:

a.   He leads as a guide.

b.   He teaches the word of God.

c.   He is an example of Christian obedience.

d.   He is one to be imitated.

e.   The teachers of the church, are leaders, conductors, guides; they must therefore so point the way to blessedness, as themselves to lead the way therein, and conduct their hearers to blessedness, not only with their doctrine, but also by their life and example (Phil. 3:17; 1 Pet. 5:3).—It is one of the hidden ways of God that upright teachers of whom there are so few, and to whose preparation so much belongs, are removed by an early death. Disciples who have such teachers should follow them faithfully be times, and hold them as all the dearer and more worthy (1 Thess. 5:12, 13; Isa. 57:1, 2).[7]

3.   Hebrews 3:17 provides additional details of the leader’s function:

a.   He must watch over the souls of those in the local congregation.

b.   He must give an account for his work.

4.   Note that the authority of the Christian leader is very specific:

The term by which Christian pastors are here designated is very suggestive. They are to stand at the head of their people,—to lead them onward in the way of faith and holy obedience,—to preside over them, maintaining that godly order by which the Church should ever be distinguished,—and to minister continually to their spiritual refreshment and strength. To this end they are to “speak” to them “the word of God,” not seeking to amuse them with their own speculations, or to dazzle them with the display of their own powers, but faithfully to deliver Christ’s message, to bring out the deep import of the truth which He has revealed, and to enforce the duties which He has enjoined[8]

And:

To speak the Word of God. The main function of the ministry is to preach the gospel, and to teach Christian truth. The gospel is a definite “word;” and it is enshrined in a Book which is called “The Word.” The preacher’s text-book is not the newspaper, or the current literature of the day, but “the oracles of God.” The great design of the Christian pulpit is to promote the intellectual and experimental knowledge of the Bible. And no minister “shall have lived in vain if it can be written over his grave, ‘He made the people understand the Scriptures’ ” (Dr. John Hall). 3. To live a consistent Christian life. When a pastor is, like Barnabas, “a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith,” it is to be expected that “much people will be added unto the Lord” (Acts 11:24). A holy example lends incalculable momentum to Christian teaching. “The life of a pious minister is visible rhetoric” (Hooker).[9]

5.   William Gouge in his commentary on Hebrews explains:

Their duty, in that they are in every way, both by preaching and practice, to go before their people, and to guide them in the way of life….

God hath made ministers to be such guides unto his people, in regard of people’s need, and for their good.

….The good that people may reap by ministers being guides is very great. Thereby they are instructed and directed in the way of life.

…As men do stand in more need of guides in regard of their spiritual estate, than in regard to their temporal estate, so the benefit that they reap from those former guides far exceeds and exceeds and excels the benefits that they an reap from the latter guides, even as much as our souls excel our bodies, heavenly commodities excel earthly, and everlasting salvation excels temporal preservation.

a.   The primary duty of the guide is to preach, “Who have spoken the word of God to you”. “There is no way wherein and whereby such as are guides of God’s people may do more good unto them, than by preaching.”

i.    They must preach the word of God, so that people may understand the will God (Ephesians 5:17, Romans 12:2).

ii.    The preaching must make known the glory of God.

iii.   The preaching must bring about faith, salvation, and the obedience of faith.

iv. They must have such lives as one could imitate.

b.   The ministers must watch over the souls of those in their congregation.

i.    Ministers are oft awake when their people are asleep and study and pray for their good, when they have no witnesses but their candle by them, which wasteth itself to give them light; teaching them thereby to be willing to spend and be spent for the instruction, edification, and salvation of their people. This was the apostle’s mind. 2 Cor. 12:15.

ii.    As a tender nurse, they take great care of their people’s weakness….

iii.   As a faithful shepherd, they protect and defend their people from such as are ravening wolves; ….They are further observant of their people’s maladies, to heal and cure them. They are careful to provide good pasture for their sheep, and in seasonable time to keep them in their folds. They are also careful to go before them in the right way where they should go.

iv. As diligent watchmen, they descry the dangers whereunto their people are subject, and give them warning, so that they may prevent the same; and in case their people be as a city besieged, they will espy what succor is coming to help them, and encourage them to hold out, and not yield to the enemy.

 

Note that the office is defined primarily by function, not by title. A man can be a pastor and not a guide; a leader who does not lead.  Second, the authority which the leader exercises is leadership in Christ’s words to God. In the end,

F.   Paul’s Instructions to Timothy and Titus

1.   1 Timothy 1:3

2.   1 Timothy 1:4 (from stewardship)-5.

3.   1 Timothy 1:18-19

4.   1 Timothy 2:1

5.   Compare 1 Timothy 3:1-7 & 8-13.

6.   What is the warning: 1 Timothy 4:1?

7.   1 Timothy 4:6

8.   1 Timothy 4:11.

9.   1 Timothy 6:2b

10. Of whom does Paul warn? 1 Timothy 6:3-4.

11. 1 Timothy 6:20-21.

12. Titus 1:6-8, 9.

13. Titus 1:10-11.

14. Titus 2:1.

15. Titus 2:11-14.

16. Titus 2:15

17. Titus 3:1.

18. 2 Timothy 2:8

19. 2 Timothy 1:11

20. 2 Timothy 1:13.

21. 2 Timothy 2:1-2.

22. 2 Timothy 2:14.

23. 2 Timothy 2:15.

24. 2 Timothy 2:24-25.

25. 2 Timothy 2:14-16.

26. 2 Timothy 4:1-4.

G. Peter’s Instructions 1 Peter 5:1-3

      1.   Shepherd

      2.   Exercise oversight

      3.   Not domineering

      4.   But being an example

H. All authorities of the church leaders are both derivative of Christ’s authority and for the purpose of Christ’s honor.

1.   1 Peter 5:1-5

a.   “The flock of God” (v. 2); Acts 20:28

b.   “The chief Shepherd” (v. 4)

2.   Strauch:

Because the apostles knew that Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit, was uniquely present with them as Ruler, Head, Lord, Pastor, Master, Overseer, High Priest, and King, they chose a form of government that reflected this distinctive, fundamental, Christian truth. This concept was no theoretical idea ot the early Christians—it was reality. The first churches were truly Christ-centered, Christ-dependent churches. Christ alone provided all they needed to be in full fellowship with God and one another. Christ’s person and work was infinitely great, final and complete, that nothing—even in appearance—was to diminish the centrality of His presence among and the sufficiency for His people.

So in the first century, no Christian would dare take a position or title of sole ruler, overseer, or pastor of the church. We Christians today, however, are so accustomed to speaking of “the pastor” that we do not stop realize that the New Testament does not. [10]

 

I.    Characteristic of an elder/overseer. 1 Timothy 3:1-7.

1.   For purposes of discipleship by word and deed (Romans 15:18).

2.   A character to imitate.

3.  Apt to teach.

4.   For additional background see the sermons by Dr. Hughes on the CBC website, “Qualifications for an Elder” parts 1-5, March 18-May 6, 2001.

J.   John 10:1-18. The Good Shepherd

K.   Timothy Z . Witmer, The Shepherd Leader

1.   Five observations

a.   All human authority is derived. It resides by nature and right only in the Good Shepherd. Matthew 28:18.

b.   “The exercise of authority is designed to serve the well-being of those under its care”.

c.   “This authority is to be directed by God’s Word.”

d.   “All who hold derived authority are ultimately accountable to the One who gave that authority.”

e.   “The flock is called to submit to that authority.”

2.   Shepherds know the sheep.

a.   “Only by preaching the gospel to our communities will we know who, in his grace, are his sheep as they respond in faith” (111).

b.   The shepherd has to identify those people who actually are Christ’s sheep.

c.   The shepherd must also with some intimacy those in the congregation:

i.    A pastor must come to know the people of his congregation by “inspection” – he’ll have to interact with the people.

ii.    He will have to provide visible care for his people.

iii.   He will have to understand his people and adapt his work to their condition.

3.   The pastor must feed the sheep.

a.   Public instruction.

b.   Private instruction.

4.   Leading

a.   Worship

b.   Education

c.   Fellowship

d.   Evangelism.

5.   Protect the Sheep.

a.   Protect them from themselves

i.    Impress them with the urgency of salvation and the eternal state.

ii.    Church hopping: “The sheep shuffle from church to church, otherwise known as ‘church hopping.’ There is no doubt that a consumer mentality among Christians whose primary question about a church is not ‘Is this a good place for me to serve and where I can grow as a believer?’ But rather, ‘Will this church meet my needs?’” Witmer believes most people leave not because of preaching but because “they are not receiving the comprehensive relational shepherding they need” (180, but cf. Lloyd-Jones, Preachers and Preaching, “If the people are not attending places of worship, I hold the pulpit to be primarily responsible. The tendency is, of course, to blame other factors….The moment you begin to try to explain away these things in terms of circumstances you always land yourself ultimately in some such ridiculous position. My contention is that it is the pulpit itself that is ultimately responsible, and that when the pulpit is right, and the preaching is true, that it will attract and draw the people to listen to its message.” (63)).

iii.   Member conflict: “One of the primary reasons that sheep wander off is unresolved conflict with other sheep.” (Witmer, 181).

6.   Seven Essential Elements of Effective Shepherding

a.   It must be biblical.

b.   It must be systematic.

c.   It must be comprehensive.

d.   It must be relational.

e.   It must include knowing, feeding, leading and protecting.

f.    It must include accountability.

g.   It must include prayer

IV.        Why Such Information Matters to One Who is Not an Overseer

A.   The characters which must mark the elders and overseers of a church should generally mark all Christians.

B.   Even if not holding the office of “overseer”, one who disciples or counsels another must exhibit the same characteristics of guidance and shepherding as an overseer.

C. Discipleship in a congregation will tend to reflect the discipleship exhibited by the overseers.

D. The obligations of a Christian to be submissive to oversight are strictly bound by the Word of God. An overseer has only derivative authority to guide one to Christ.

 


[1] Allison, Strangers and Sojourners, 124.

[2] Allison, 124.

[3] Culver, Systematic Theology, 808.

 

[4] Culver, 873.

[5] John Chrysostom, “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the First Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians,” ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Hubert Kestell Cornish, John Medley, and Talbot B. Chambers, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series: Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 3–4.

[6] Jay Edward Adams, A Theology of Christian Counseling: More Than Redemption (Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resource Library, 1986), 3.

[7] John Peter Lange et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Hebrews (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 217.

[8] Henry W. Williams, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews (London: Wesleyan Conference Office, 1871), 413.

[9] H. D. M. Spence-Jones, ed., Hebrews, The Pulpit Commentary (London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909), 400.

[10] Biblical Eldership, 115.