Here is the final installment of the lecture series on the ontology of the church. The lecture notes are here:
Here is the final lecture:
Commenting on Colossians 1:18, “And he [Christ] is the head of the body, the church”, Thomas Manton writes:
[T]he church is the body. By the church is meant the church mystical, or all such as are called out of the world to be a peculiar people unto God. Now, these considered collectively or together, they are a body; but singly and separately, every believer is a member of that body: 1 Cor. 12:29, ‘Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.’ All the parts and members joined together are a spiritual body, but the several persons are members of that body. Yea, though there be many particular churches, yet they are not many bodies, but one body, so it is said, 1 Cor. 12:12, ‘As the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.’ He is the head, and the many and divers members of the universal Christian church are but one body. The universal invisible church of real believers is one mystical body knit by faith to Christ, their head, and by love among themselves. And the visible universal church is one politic body, conjoined with Christ their head, and among themselves, by an external entering into covenant with God, and the serious profession of all saving truths. They have all the same king and head, the same laws—the word of God—the same sacraments of admission and nutrition, which visibly, at least, they subject themselves unto, and have a grant of the same common privileges in the gospel.
Thomas Manton collected works, volume 1, page 454, Christ’s Eternal Existence and Dignity of her Person, sermon v.
Gerald Bray asks, If anyone can buy a Bible and read, why preaching?
…the Bible, like any other aspect of the visible church, can be read and studied without any appreciation of the spiritual dimension to which it bears witness.
This is where preachers come in. They are men sent by God to bring his Word alive in the world. Their purpose is not merely to teach what the Bible says, thought that is important, but to challenge their hearers to receive that teaching in their hearts. A sermon is not a lecture but a plea to us to hear and submit to the authority of the Word of God. The problem with ancient Israel was not that they had not heard that Word but that it had not submitted to it in humble obedience. Unfortunately, what was true of them is also true of many people today because true preachers (as opposed to lecturers and pulpit entertainers) are few and their message is neglected. The true preacher is a man filled with the Spirit of God, who can bring his Word alive in that Spirit. As the fire in him spreads to those who hear him, the dry wood is set alight, and men and women come to know the power of The Lord Jesus Christ in their lives.
When this happens, the conversion of individuals leads to the creation of the new community that we call the church. Fire can exist only its own, but only for a time because eventually it will grow cold and be extinguished. Individual sparks need to find the full body of the blaze to which they can contribute and from which they will draw new life. That fire and that life can be found in the visible institutions which we call “the church,” but the two things are not identical. When we are alive in the Spirit, we live in the visible church but we see beyond it, knowing that our true home, and indeed the true Church of God is the spiritual body, which the Spirit’s heavenly fire brings to life in the world.
God is Love, 666-667.
The covenant community (the visible church) is wider than the company of the elect (the invisible church). Put more eschatologically, the invisible church is the church as it will be fully revealed only on the last day. As in the Old Testament, the visible church or covenant com- munity is at present a “mixed body”: “Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (Rom. 9:6). There are weeds sown among the wheat (Matt. 13:36-43). In short, the visible church is the field in which the Father is at work, in the Son, and by his Spirit, producing a harvest for the end of the age. It is not simply the sum total of regenerate believers deciding and acting in concert, but the heavenly embassy on earth, where Christ is building his kingdom.
“The Church After Evangelicalism”, Michael Horton, in Renewing the Evangelical Mission, ed. Lints, 139.
The Church in Matthew:
Two aspects of the church must be considered in Matthew. First, Jesus consciously sought to create a new community which centered around him.
The proclamation of Jesus began with a proclamation of God’s kingdom coming:
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17 (ESV)
Jesus called disciples to follow Jesus:
19 And he said to them, “Follow (deute) me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19 (ESV)
The following of the first disciples is matched by the crowds following Jesus, “And great crowds followed (ekolouthesan) him” (Matthew 4:25).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus opens with promises which include receiving gifts of the heavenly kingdom based upon one’s relationship to Jesus:
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:10–12 (ESV)
Jesus considers himself as one who could potentially abolish but actually has the power to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17). Jesus claims the power to exercise eschatological judgment (Matthew 7:21-23). One’s response to the instruction of Jesus will be of the most profound importance (Matthew 7:24-27; 10:5-15, responding to the message conveyed by Jesus’ representatives).
Jesus symbolically arranges a community around himself (commentators find that this constitutes a renewed Israel). Schreiner notes, “Given that Jesus defined the new community in terms of its relationship with him, it is not astonishing that Jesus spoke of the “church” (ekklesia)” (Schreiner, New Testament Theology, 681). The new community, the “church” is mentioned in Matthew 16:18 & 18:15-20).
Second, the church of Jesus would extend beyond merely Israel. This is seen first in the selection of four Gentile women in the (assuming “the wife of Uriah” was also a Hittite) in the introductory genealogy of Jesus. Jesus is welcomed not by the rulers of Israel but by foreigners (Matthew 2:1-12); and Jesus must escape to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15). There is a hint of this in John the Baptist’s comment that “God is able rom these stones to raise up children of Abraham” (Matthew 3:9). The parable of the vineyard makes the point more clearly (Matthew 20:1-16).
A hint of the scope of the message is found in Matthew 24:9, in that “all nations” will hate Jesus’ disciples. The angels will gather God’s people from the entire world (Matthew 24:31). The centurion mentioned in Mark 15:39 shows a foreigner recognizing Jesus.
Most importantly, Jesus specifically commissions his disciples to go in all the world, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
The Great Commission also draws in the first strand of the church: that it was a community organized around Jesus. The distinguishing marks of those in the church are (1) baptism (an introductory rite) and (2) being taught to observe all that Jesus has commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). Thus, Jesus organized a church around himself along the same lines as the people of God under the Old Covenant (Deuteronomy 27:1).
“If Nonconformity has become weakened for the time, it is because Christianity has become with so many merely a religion and not a gospel. It is an ideal and not a power, a charity and not a faith. It only expresses their best selves; it does not save them from themselves, and snatch them by the very hair from the burning marl, the miry clay, or the crumbling edge of the pit. I have marvelled, and more than marvelled, to find Christianity described by a very able prelate as little more than imitating and obeying Christ. As if faith did not mean that we owe Him life even before allegiance; as if it did not mean something passionate in the owing of ourselves, and the committal of our whole selves in Redemption to Christ for ever and ever.”
Peter Taylor Forsyth. “The charter of the church.” Alexander & Shepheard.
Let all the faithful, whether men or women, when early in the morning they rise from their sleep and before they undertake any tasks, wash their hands and pray to God; and so they may go to their duties. But if a any instruction in God’s word is held [that day], everyone ought to attend it willingly, recollecting that he will hear God speaking through the instructor and that prayer in the church enables him to avoid the day’s evil; any godly man ought to count it a great loss if he does
not attend the place of instruction, especially if he can read.
If a [specially gifted] teacher should come, let none of you delay to attend the place where the instruction is given, for grace will be given to the speaker to utter things profitable to all, and thou wilt hear new things, and thou wilt be profited by what the Holy Spirit will give thee through the instructor; so thy faith will be strengthened by what thou hearest, and in that place thou wilt learn thy duties at home; therefore let everyone be zealous to go to the church, the place where the Holy Spirit abounds.
But if on any day there is no instruction, let everyone at home take the Bible and read sufficiently
in passages that he finds profitable.
Hippolytus, Apostolic Traditions
1 Peter, 1 Peter 1:12, 1 Peter 3:4, Bridges, Charles Bridges, Christian Ministry, Church, Colossians, Colossians 3:24, despair, Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiastes 1:3, Encouragement, Ephesians 6:1-3, Galatians 5:15, Holy Spirit, Hope, love, Ministry, Philippians, Philippians 2:14-18, Romans, Romans 12:15, Romans 8:20, Service, The Christian Ministry, Vanity
Having discussed the discouragements of ministry, Bridges lists out six encouragements of the work. Yet, none of the encouragements pertain to the personal ease and rest of the minister. Rather, each “encouragement” actually entails throwing oneself into the work and seeking nothing beyond Christ’s glory.
First, anyone who actually knows the work and understands the impossible demands the ministry may despair. When a married couple comes into the office tottering on divorce; when a parent comes weeping over a child’s life, the minister willing to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15), fears that he too will break. When professing believers bite and devour (Galatians 5:15), the grief seems that it will overwhelm. Yet, as Bridges notes:
“How encouraging is the recollection of our office, as the ordinance of Christ, and as the standing proof of his love to his Church. For will he not honour his own institution, and secure its appointed end in the glory of his name and the happiness of his Church?”
Christ’s will complete his work; therefore, Christ’s minister need not despair.
Second, and related, Christ does not build his church through our human efforts alone — as if our skill and wisdom would raise the spiritually dead. Yet, as Bridges notes, it is the Spirit who works through us to perform our ends, “The life-giving Spirit” employs our Ministry as the vehicle of conveying his Divine influence “to open the blind eyes,” and to quicken the spiritually dead.”
This is not too much to say, for note, as Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:12, that the Holy Spirit communicates to God’s people through ministers of the Word, “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”
Third, if we are true ministers, then our greatest joy will be Christ’s glory — indeed that will be our true hope and seeing our Lord exalted will be our pleasure, “The blessed fruits of the Ministry in winning sinners to Christ, and stamping his holy image upon their hearts, are most refreshing. The subsequent walk also of this renewed people in the faith, hope, and love of the Gospel, forms our ground of unceasing thanksgiving to God, our chief joy, and the very life of our life.”
We see this very joy and encouragement exemplified in Paul who rejoices in the Gospel proclamation. Paul, speaks of his imprisonment as a positive good, because “what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (1 Peter 1:12).
Here is the key to such encouragement, Paul defined his good in terms of Christ’s glory. Therefore, the advance of the Gospel brought Paul joy. Thus, the encouragement of the Christian minister can only lie in the glory of God in Jesus Christ. If we seek encouragement in personal ease, or comfort or praise, we will be continually discouraged. Thus, like Paul, we must pursue the work without complete, willingly spending our lives for Christ, knowing that our work is not in vain:
14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. Philippians 2:14-18.
A moment’s reflection should help to draw out his encouragement: imagine a man or woman who comes to the end of life and wonders, What was the point of all my work, “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” Ecclesiastes 1:3.
The creation subjected to futility (Romans 8:20), throws up work which can never profit. But work done for the glory of the Creator cannot be lost: we can rejoice in our labor, because it is not in vain (Philippians 2:16). By seeking our good and encouragement beyond ourselves, the Christian can rejoice in all his labor.
A further point: such minister is not restricted to the “pastor” — it is a promise to all Christian service to Christ. The Christian who graciously bears the brutality of a painful job and vicious employer knows, “that from The Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving The Lord Christ” (Col. 3:24). The wife who graciously lives with a husband who “does not obey the word” are “in God’s sight very precious” (1 Peter 3:4). The child who honors his parents for the Lord’s sake will receive a promise fulfilled (Ephesians 6:1-3).
“The Church is the community of all true believers for all time”. The term “church” is also used to reference the community of true believers in distinction to Israel. While the Church is comprised of a visible congregation of believers, the visible congregation is not solely comprised of true believers. Thus, the church may also be said to be invisible: “The invisible church is the church as God sees it.”
The church is universal, in that it comprises all believers and local in that it comprises local congregation of believers, “the community of God’s people considered at any level can rightly be called a church.”
Christ is the head, and the church is the body (Col. 2:19).
“What in the world is God doing?”
To understand what God is doing, we must place the present circumstance into the overarching work of God in the redemptive story. We must see our current ministry work in the context of God’s overall work in the world. Thus, the propagation of a congregation or a ministry is nothing if it does not further the real work of God.
Political and social prospering is only incidental to the overarching work of God in the world. A huge church with “worldwide impact” (I loathe the word “impact” when not used of teeth or cars) means nothing if it does not further God’s work in God way to glorify God. God is obtaining his glory – and we are called to make disciples of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
The growth which God seeks is “gospel growth”:
Salvation and new life come as the word is preached, but only if God grants repentance – only if the Holy Spirit falls on those who hear the word, so that their dead hearts might spring to life in response….[The NT focus] is on the progress of the Spirit-backed word of God as it makes its way in the world according to God’s plan….[While congregations do increase in size as a result of this work] the emphasis is not on the growth of the congregation as a structure – in numbers finances and success – but on the growth of the gospel …. (T&V, 36-37).
Thus, success in this world, the propagation of “ministry, vast numbers in attendance, giving money and doing things is all worthless – perhaps worse than worthless because it diverts efforts from better work – if it does not result in the creation of disciples.
Ministry must be measured against the overarching work of God in history. We cannot abstract our congregation from the story of God’s work and still think that it is God’s work. Our ambitions are useless if our ambition is other than the glory of God.
What then is our task? To takes God’s word and bring it to God’s people and pray for the Spirit’s application: that is ministry: teaching, preaching, counseling, discipleship: it is all the same thing: God’s glory, God’s word, God’s Spirit.
T&V chapter 3 contain three implications for seeing the overall story. It’s in the book, read it yourself.
On this point, John MacArthur’s opening message at the 2008 Shepherd’s Conference is worth a hear: