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Recovering the True Christian Church For Its Mission

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Christ Himself is the Foundation of the Church

When one surveys the history of Christianity and compares that history with the original teachings of Christianity, it can be an eye-opening experience. For example, we know that the Christian church is built by Christ, not men. We know that the church belongs to Christ, not men. And we know that Satan wants to destroy the church. Jesus told Peter in Matt. 16:18

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 

Notice that Jesus calls the church “my church.” Also, note that Jesus says, “I will build my church.” Jesus goes on to say quite literally, whatever you might bind on earth WILL HAVE BEEN BOUND in heaven and whatever you might loose on earth WILL HAVE BEEN LOOSED in heaven. The use of the perfect tense focuses the reader on the fact that Matthew is emphasizing the heaven’s action of this verb, over the action of the apostle’s binding and loosing which are both in the aorist tense.

Whatever authority Peter and the apostles had, its source would be in heaven. It is wrong to think of this language in a way that has Heaven backing the apostle’s play. Better, it should be understood that apostolic authority, the spiritual authority of the church is restricted to divine authority. This makes it possible for leaders in the church to go beyond their authority. And indeed, when Christianity roles into the 4th century, this is exactly what happens. Men have turned to eyes to temporal and political authority and power and have assumed that God will back their play. They begin to misuse and abuse their spiritual authority. They begin to exceed their authority, failing to understand the treason they are committing when they do so. It is not just abuse for a pastor/elder to exceed his spiritual authority, it is the highest form of treason.

The Authority of Scripture

The path to recovering the church lies in returning to the absolute authority of Scripture. This means that Scripture informs the structure of our churches locally from the standpoint of leadership and it means that the entire service centers around the Christ revealed in Scripture. In Titus 1:5, Paul writes, 

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you. 

There are a few things worth noting in this verse. First, there are some things that are lacking that need to be corrected. Apparently, one of these items, likely, the most important one is the appointing of elders in every town. The clear inference here is that a lack of elders means that your church has a deficiency that requires correction. Commenting on this verse, George Knight writes,

κατὰ πόλιν is used in the distributive sense: “city by city” or “in every city” (BAGD s.v. κατά II.1d; cf. Acts 15:21; 20:23; also κατʼ ἐκκλησίαν, Acts 14:23). This means that plural πρεσβυτέρους relates to each city that has a church: Several elders/overseers are appointed in each church. This corresponds to what was done in the cities of Philippi (Phil. 1:1) and Ephesus (Acts 20:17, 28; cf. 14:23; 1 Thes. 5:12, 13; 1 Tim. 5:17).[1]

The Biblical Mandate for Pastors and Elders

Every local church is to have a plurality of elders. The lack of a plurality of elders in the local church is considered by Paul a problem that must be rectified. He deliberately left Titus in Crete so that he would work toward this end. If your local church does not have a plurality of elders, each man being equal in authority as the next man, then your church is deficient in a critical area and it should address this deficiency promptly and with a sense of urgency. It does not matter what kind of ecclesiology the people have become accustomed to. As an elder, you are obligated to train them according to the authority of Scripture and fix it. Do it now. Only then can you begin to recover a NT church.

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A plurality of elders, when done biblically, guards against the dominant charismatic personality type. This helps protect all the elders and more importantly the church from adopting bad practices, unbiblical teachings, and guards against mission drift. To the elders at Ephesus, Paul wrote the following ominous warning: I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. It should be noted that Paul called for the elders, plural, of the church at Ephesus to come down to him. Once they were assembled, Paul issued this very sober warning about the spiritual dangers of Christianity and the duties of these men to protect the church from these dangers. Of course, a plurality of elders doesn’t help much if there is one dominant personality (Sr. Pastor) who manipulates the composition of the body of elders.

Defending and Proclaiming the True Gospel

Another component of recovering the church is getting the gospel right. The state of affairs that has obtained today regarding the gospel is quite disturbing. It seems to me that many Christian leaders have trouble distinguishing the gospel from the good works that result from the gospel. Opposing abortion is, to many, a gospel issue. Immigration has become a gospel issue. Stopping human trafficking has become a gospel issue. And if that isn’t bad enough, we still have the Billy Graham-Charles Finney revivalism hangover. Christianity is a product of human will. This is also known as decisional regeneration. As long as the churches fail to understand the gospel revealed in Scripture, there can be no recovery.

Another problem is the failure on the part of the churches to evangelize. Some people evangelize more than others. And some people don’t evangelize at all. They simply don’t open their mouth and share their faith with anyone, ever. In fact, asking someone if they go to church is as close as some people get to evangelism. If that is you, I hate to inform you that you are not evangelizing. To evangelize is to share the gospel. That requires some sort of confrontation. And it is that confrontation that we desperately want to avoid. It is impossible to recover the NT church in our churches without also recovering the practice of evangelism. Tell someone the truth about how Jesus Christ saved you from the darkness of sin and translated you into the kingdom of the light of the glorious gospel!

Proper Teaching and Equipping of Church Members

Another major piece of this puzzle is equipping the saints. If you are a pastor and you are not spending the overwhelming majority of your time and energy working a robust and healthy discipleship system of some sort, then you are doing it wrong. According to Eph. 4:11-12, God gave pastors…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. The saints are biblically inept today. They know very little about what the Bible actually teaches. They know less about any kind of systematic theology. And they know almost NOTHING about the history of Christianity. Most professing Christians spend very little energy becoming acquainted with the one being they say is the most important person in their life: the Triune God revealed in Scripture.

It is precisely this lack of discipleship and equipping that gives platforms to movements like the Charismatic movement, and people like Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes, Steve Furtick, Beth Moore, Andy Stanley, and a plethora of charlatans ranging from outright heretics to those fleecing the church and slandering the name of Christ with their scandalous doctrines. Not only that, this lack of equipping and education in the churches makes the church far too dependent on men. In order for accountability to work, you have to have godly leaders holding the churches accountable and churches holding their godly leaders accountable.

Too Much Responsibility Place on Leaders

One of the most serious problems in our churches today is that our pastors are used to doing far too much without any oversight. Some churches have given their pastors far too much autonomy, thinking that this should make things run more smoothly. To the contrary, it places our pastors and our churches at tremendous risk. The churches have to be responsible for calling their elders/pastors. They have to be responsible for firing them if necessary. Our churches have to create structures where the elders are transparent, reporting on the details of projects and priorities. The leaders need to be able to provide biblical justification for the items that are on their radar. The communication between the elders/pastors should be free-flowing, clear and constant. If that is not the case in your church, I would encourage you to begin to work to change that. We are all sinners and we need to hold each other accountable.And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

[1] George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1992), 288.

         

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