The Church being salt and light
The Biblically Unique Church
What a weird church–some practices
Things just don’t work out right. Take the lawyer trying to discredit the policeman on the witness stand. The lawyer asked, “Who gave you the description of my client fleeing the scene?” The officer said, “My fellow officer.” The lawyer asked, “Do you trust him?” The officer said, “Yes sir, with my life.” “Oh, with your life? Tell me, officer, do you have a room where you change clothes and a place to put your possessions at work?” The officer said, “Yes.”
“And do you put a lock on your locker?” To which the officer replied, “Yes.” “Then tell me why, officer–if you trust your fellow officers with your life, you find it necessary to lock your locker in a room you share with these same officers?” The officer answered, “You see, sir–we share the building with the court complex, and sometimes lawyers have been known to walk through that room.” I love that—though it certainly didn’t work out well for the lawyer.
How about the two pastors applying for the same job–Luke and John. Both had the same qualifications and both were asked to take a test by the search committee. Upon completion of the test, they both had missed only one of the questions. The search committee chairman went to Luke and said, “Thank you for your interest, but we’ve decided to give John the job.” And Luke said, “Why would you do that? We both got nine questions correct.”
“Well,” the chairman said, “We have made our decision not on the correct answers, but on the question you both missed.” So Luke asked, “Just how would one incorrect answer be better than the other?” The chairman said, “Simple, John put down on question number five, ‘I don’t know,’–and you put down, ‘Neither do I.’” That didn’t work out well.
We were in Florida—it was late, we were trying to find our hotel and our early version of GPS sent us to one of the darkest, scariest, dead end streets in this little town. That didn’t work. We ordered a sink from Amazon and received the back of a toilet. Some things just don’t work right sometimes. But with Christ in His Church, He has some practices that must work right. These are essential for our church to be salt and light in the world. But these practices must be done correctly. They must be executed according to the owner’s manual in order for them to bring God glory and be for our good.
Would you agree that not everything is done correctly in the Church at large? Should we baptize 5-year-olds? Are we to discipline people over their preferences? Is the local church to make singing optional? Is evangelism only proclaiming Christ on the street or door to door? Is membership optional or required? How do we perform these practices in a way that truly pleases Christ? Today, we want to look at some of the practices of the biblical church. Why do we operate the way we do?
Many practices are not preferences, but principles–not options, but commands. There are procedures every biblical church must do. I am not describing programs, but biblical principles in practice. With programs, you often hear the seven last words of the Church. How do people respond to programs? The seven words, “We’ve never done it that way before.” But with practices, which are biblical commands–these are not optional.
We don’t want to make them complicated, but do the best we can to obey God’s Word. We don’t want to become the trendy church, with everything new—“no cap.” Nor do we want to be “mid”, meaning mediocre–but savage, hits different, lit and O.P. Those are trendy terms to communicate in fun. We don’t want to be trendy. What we want is not to be new, but to be very old—Early Church, biblical. Not a traditional church, but a truth-driven church, filled with God’s Spirit, humbly pursuing obedience to God’s Word in practice.
We will not cover all the practices Christ put in place for His bride. But today we will answer why we do what we do with six different areas in five points. Today wraps up our “What a Weird Church” series for now, because the modern church has moved so far away from the Scripture, we appear weird to church attenders. But when we follow the Scripture over week one doctrine, week two priorities, week three relationships, and week four morals, we will be true salt and light. And now with week five, Church practices, we are hoping to function the way our Lord desires us to follow as a church, that things work well in our midst. What would some of those practices be?
#1 The Church practices BAPTISM and COMMUNION
As you all know, June is graduation month. We watched the processional, we snickered at what caps and gowns can do to normal-looking people, we listen to speeches, we clap for students, then we go home wondering about this strange rite of passage. Human beings are eccentric, aren’t they? We have this unusual propensity for markers and milestones throughout our lives–birthdays, baby dedications, weddings, anniversaries, retirement parties, even war memorials. Somewhere deep within human beings is the need to celebrate the important moments of life.
Your cat doesn’t care about its anniversary for arriving at your home—actually your cat doesn’t care about anything. But just forget your wedding anniversary once, and you’ll discover how important celebrating important moments are. Neglect your car’s birthday–no big deal. But forget your kid’s birthday, you’ll see a deep reaction.
Two practices mark a Christian rite of passage. One is a single initiatory rite called baptism and the other is an ongoing, regularly celebrated rite called communion. You know whatever God designs, the enemy distorts. Whatever is crucial for Christians, the enemy corrupts for compromisers. Baptism and communion are designed by God for every believer and church. But both have been distorted and corrupted by the enemy.
First Look at the first step of obedience–BAPTISM
The enemy corrupted baptism . . . 1) by making it a requirement for salvation—wrong, 2) by teaching that infants should be baptized as a sign of God’s promise—wrong, 3) by teaching that any mode of baptism is fine and what God intended—wrong, and 4) the enemy corrupted baptism by making it optional for Christians—wrong.
The Greek word baptize means immersion–it is an outward sign of an inward transformation, expressing a heart that seeks to identify with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection to follow Christ as the first step of obedience, and your identity with and immersion into Christ’s body, the Church. Matthew 28:19 and 20 say, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
In 1 Corinthians 1:14 Paul adds, “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius . . . 16Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other.” Commanded by Christ and taught/practiced in the epistles, makes baptism the first step of obedience for every Christian and an ordinance of the Church. FF Bruce writes, “The idea of an unbaptized Christian is simply not entertained in the New Testament.” It’s not a personal choice but a divine command. Spurgeon said, “Nothing is more plainly taught in the New Testament than that it is the duty of every believer in Christ to be baptized.”
And get this–only believers are to be baptized. The words “belief” and “baptism” are inseparably linked in the New Testament. Belief is always assumed to be the root, of which baptism is the fruit. It is why the church should not baptize children ages 0-12, even 13-15. There needs to be enough time to establish their independence from their parents’ faith, a Luke 14 willingness to die, a desire to obey Christ regardless of family and be able to surrender to Christ, demonstrating an independent fleeing sin and pursuing Christ in order for a child from a Christian home to stand distinctly for Christ. But as that faith is manifested, you and I are to be baptized by immersion. Are you?
Second Look at THE ONGOING expression of obedience–COMMUNION
The Lord’s Supper is an external reminder of salvation. The bread reminds you of the broken body of Christ and the juice reminds you of Christ’s shed blood on your behalf. It reminds you of what Christ did in order to provide salvation for you. He was our substitute–He took your forever punishment in Hell. For you, we remember Christ with communion.
Communion was so important to the Early Church, they not only made it a major milestone, but a giant family reunion. Along with the bread and the cup, they enjoyed a love feast together. Now this agape feast was like a modern day potluck. You always thought that potlucks were spiritual–now you know for certain. Members of a church family would gather and bring whatever food or drink they could afford. They were encouraged to share it with all, regardless of how rich or poor they were.
After the feast, the most symbolic part of the meal was served–the Communion. Then after communion and the meal, the believers would linger to share, sing and enjoy a time where all barriers were down and all bonds strengthened. The Lord began the ordinance in the upper room and practiced it in the Early Church. Paul corrected the Corinthian church over their poor practice of Communion in 1 Corinthians 11. It was so serious, some believers were sick and others had actually died because of their wrong practices with the Lord’s Supper. They were disunified, they were coming drunk to the agape feast. They were not examining their own hearts and they were not remembering the incredible sacrifice of Christ on their behalf.
So Paul corrects believers in 1 Corinthians 11 by highlighting three of the main purposes of the Lord’s Supper. There are no warnings to non-believers over Communion–they’re already under God’s judgment. No, the warnings about Communion are pointed directly at the believer. Paul warns born again Christians to not partake in an unworthy manner. When you individually practice Communion with all of us together, we must . . .
1 Remember OUR UNITY
Verses 17 to 22 teach us to make certain there is no sin, no broken fellowship, no disunity between you and another believer in this church before you partake.
2 Remember HIS SACRIFICE
In verses 23 to 26, Paul makes the main point that communion is our time to remember how Christ sacrificed Himself in order to save us from our sins. We will again practice communion in a variety of ways just to keep our hearts focused and not routine, as we remember His sacrifice.
3 Remember YOUR HEART
In verses 28 to 30, God commands you to examine your heart for any unconfessed, unrepentant sin between you and the Lord and deal with that before you partake. Though not a doctrine, the evidence of the New Testament is Communion was practiced regularly, if not weekly. We love it, because it is an ongoing physical reminder of what Christ did for us. And because our hearts are prone to wander, we love being brought back to the foot of the cross and our Lord’s costly salvation every single week.
The Lord knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows our tendency to forget–our propensity to allow the pace of life fade our love for Christ. The big tension, Christ commands us to partake. And He also warns us to make certain our hearts are right before Him. Are they? The next practice . . .
#2 The Church practices CHURCH DISCIPLINE
Parents, do you remember when you stopped your child from doing some very bad thing? Scratching a car, writing on walls, stealing from friends, torturing the cat, lighting an indoor fire, breaking a precious item—and all that was Shawn Farrell before he was two. God has a practice in the Church family which does the same–it seeks to rescue a believer from intentional sin against God.
In the Law, in Numbers chapter 15, Moses makes a distinction between unintentional sin and intentional sin–or undefiant sin and defiant sin. As the New Testament unfolds, it describes different approaches to certain kinds of sin in others. Unintentional, undefiant sin–1 Peter 4:8b says, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” Love them, accept them, get over offences, forgive them, remembering how many times you have sinned in the same way and have sinned against others.
If you can’t let it go . . . then with intentional, defiant sin, the New Testament tells you to lovingly confront. Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” Galatians 6:1, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” Romans 16:17, “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.” Titus 3:10, “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning.” First Corinthians 5:11, “I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one.”
When it’s unintentional, cover their sin. When it’s intentional, confront their sin. When you go to confront, go in humility and love, recognizing your own battles with sin. Why? To restore them to fellowship with Christ and Christians, plus to protect the Church. When we tolerate defiant sin, it harms the Church and destroys our witness in this world.
How? You lovingly call them to repent of their sin, to turn from it and follow Christ in obedience to His Word–doing so with gentleness, making certain your heart is right, doing so humbly knowing you too are a sinner. Who does it? There are no Gestapo squads. There are no self-righteous, do-what-I-sayers! The people who lovingly confront—they are you . . . every single Christian.
When someone is hurting themselves, damaging the Church, ruining our witness with defiant sin, it is initially not the elders’ job, the pastor’s job, or the interns’—no, it is the Christian who covers the sins of others with love, or confronts the defiant sinner, using the appropriate discipline passage which most fits the particular sin. If you love someone, you cover their unintentional sin, or you confront their intentional sin. Church discipline is the process Christians use in restoring defiantly sinful believers back to dependent obedience to Christ, and to protect the body from defiant, unrepentant sin.
#3 The Church practices UNDISTRACTED/non-performance PRAISE
I occasionally look around on Sundays and I see people not singing. That means they’re not saved, immature, in sin, fearful, proudly self-conscious, or most likely–they sing so badly, they refuse to punish others around them with their singing. Is that you? A biblical church is a singing church–a church that praises God. The Bible clearly teaches that every Christian is to be filled with the Spirit. And when you are filled with the Spirit, you will sing.
Ephesians 5:18, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” When you depend upon the Spirit of God, seeking to obey the Word of God, confessing all known sin and seeking to serve Christ in all things, then you are, verse 19, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.”
Let’s pick this phrase apart. Verse 19, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” This either means commune in your own heart with songs, or speak to one another with songs. Most good commentators think it is both in your heart, and speaking to others. It’s melodically, Colossians 3:16, “Letting the word of Christ richly dwell within you.” I sing our worship songs in my heart and think about the truth of them all week long.
When it comes to speaking songs to others, not too many people come up to me and say, “Amazing Grace, Chris, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me”–and I answer, “You got that right–wretch!” No, we do share truth with each other, and singing truth, singing biblical poetry, Scripture memory makes that possible.
Now, what is it that we speak? Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Most burp and go on and say these all mean the same thing–but they don’t! This is music–Psalms has to do with instrumental plucking of strings. Hymns have to do with a poem of praise–even acrostics or choruses written so you can remember them. Spiritual songs have to do with a celebration of praise. Catch the word celebration.
Shame on you who are stoic and stiff in your worship. Shame on you who never express emotion in your praise. Praise has nothing to do with charismatic sign gifts. But the Bible says we will celebrate, like 2 Samuel 6:5. “David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord with all kinds of instruments made of fir wood, and with lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets and cymbals.” They used everything to celebrate before the Lord.
Back to Ephesians 5:19, “Singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.” The next two participles are linked in the Greek, so it literally means singing with the voice and making melody with instruments. How many of you are encouraged by singing with God’s people? Spirit-filled Christians sing, Spirit-filled churches sing. God’s true children want to sing and will sing, even if it is not in key, as some of you truly do make a joyful noise–go for it.
That reminds me of the worship leader who was visiting the south and decided to sing “Old Kentucky Home” as a closing number. One lady started to cry, seemingly moved by the song–and so the louder he sang, the louder she wept. He really poured it on, and she continued to cry even louder. Finally, the music leader stopped and asked her, “Miss, are you from Kentucky or from the South? And she said, “No, I am a musician.”
Regardless, God’s people love to sing–we love music. The Bible even says in Zephaniah 3:17 that God sings. And our singing is to be from the fulness of the Spirit, from our hearts and always to the Lord. Verse 19, “with your heart to the Lord.” Because it is God’s people who sing praise, our singing at FBC is directed at Him and not performance. We may have someone sing a chorus, or focus on an instrument, but we are not here to focus on musicians and watch them, but give our praise to Christ. So we work hard to have our worship be undistracted, always according to the Word of God with accurate doctrine, and focused on Christ alone in praise.
#4 The Church practices EVANGELISM in all forms, especially RELATIONAL
God is sovereign in salvation–our nature is so sinful, so sick, so lost that no one will ever turn to Christ for salvation unless the Lord has chosen us and called us. Yet equally true, you and I are responsible to share the Gospel. In order for the lost to respond, they must hear the truth of what God did in providing a way of salvation through the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ.
On the heels of teaching us God alone chooses who will be saved in Romans 9, Paul teaches believers in Romans 10:14b and 17, “How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? . . . 17So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” You must share the Gospel, but too many of you think that means you must be a street preacher, which is not what God had in mind at all. Yes, God made you an evangelist. Yet just like your unique spiritual gifts, you also have a unique way to share the good news. Do you know it?
Most Christians dismiss the practice of evangelism because they can’t handle the idea of knocking on doors, megaphone preaching and apologetic arguments. Friends, that is meant for only a few. God made you a witness. God commands you to share the Gospel–but there are many ways to be an ambassador of Christ. Let me free you up to share Christ the way God designed just for you. You should identify which style fits you best, then start using it this week. Maybe you are . . .
1) The Confrontational style
Like Peter in Acts 2, who said “repent and be baptized”, or
2) The Intellectual style
Like Paul in Acts 17, presenting Christ to the Mars Hill thinkers, or
3) The Testimonial style
Like the blind beggar in John 9, who said, “I was blind, but now I see”–telling others what Christ had done for him, “Christ changed my life,” or
4) The Invitational style
Like the Samaritan Woman in John 4, who begged people of her city to come and hear Christ Himself, to hear the Word of God, or
5) The Servational style
Like Dorcus in Acts 9, who sacrificially made things for others, giving them in the name of Christ to point others to Christ–she served others, or
6) The Relational style
Like the man freed of the unclean spirits in Mark 5, Jesus told him to go home and tell your family/friends how God had mercy on you. Build relationships with people so close, they will start to want what you have. The most effective methods of evangelism are the relational methods. How many of you came to Christ through a friend or family member, relationally?
Listen friends, you don’t have to be a street preacher to share the Gospel of Christ. Share your testimony, invite others to hear the Word of God, serve people with sacrificial actions, and build close relationships with them in order for you to be able to share the truth that God sent His perfect Son, the God man, Jesus Christ, to take the eternal punishment for sin that you and I deserve, rose from the dead and now is the only way truth and life to be right with God. Tell them God saves sinners, and do it through your own unique style of evangelism.
#5 The Church practices MEMBERSHIP
Do you know what makes a healthy church? A church filled with genuinely saved Christians. Do you know what makes a great church? When its members function as God designed. With a new heart God gives you in salvation, you will want to attach yourself to a local church as if you were a blood relation (because in fact you are in Christ). Then as an organ/a member of Christ’s body, you will interconnect relationally, minister through your spiritual giftedness, give of your time and money sacrificially, intentionally investing into others spiritually through discipleship, fleeing sin and pursuing Christ together, growing through His Word, and sharing the Gospel in the world.
But that will never happen unless you first attach yourself, one heart one mind, to a local church–which the New Testament assumes of every Christian, called membership. When you are saved, you are made a member of the body of Christ. But you will never fully function as a member of Christ’s body until you commit yourselves to a local church. Every Christian is to be one heart one mind with the doctrine and direction of a church family, in submission to a plurality of elders, serving, giving, witnessing, obeying the taught Word, participating in baptism and communion, etc.
We know membership is biblical, because of the example of the Early Church–when individuals repented, they were baptized and added to the Church. The New Testament letters were mainly written to churches, meaning God instructs us as a church, more than as individuals. Even the book of Acts addresses believers as in a church or congregation.
The existence of church government necessitates membership, in that all believers are accountable to, and to function under, a plurality of qualified men who are responsible to shepherd God’s people. They have charge over the flock and keep watch over their souls. The elders will give an account to God for the individuals allotted to their charge. For that to happen, there must be a membership, a recognized group of people functioning together with them, one heart one mind.
The exercise of church discipline assumes membership, since it’s assumed that the elders of a church know who their members are. And the exhortation for mutual edification–God has called every member to a life devoted to the growth of the body. Christians in churches pursue the “one-anothers” of the New Testament and exercising their spiritual gifts. Mutual edification can only take place in the context of the corporate body of Christ. And these expectations presuppose that believers have committed themselves to other believers in a specific local assembly. We call that one heart one mind membership.
Living out a commitment to a local church involves many responsibilities–living a godly lifestyle in the community, exercising one’s spiritual gifts in diligent service, contributing financially to the work of the ministry, sharing and receiving admonishment with meekness and in love, and faithfully participating in corporate worship. Much is expected, but much is at stake. Only when every believer is faithful to this kind of commitment is the church able to live up to her calling as Christ’s representative here on earth to be light and salt. Membership matters. Are you one?
A You can’t do these practices right at all, unless you are genuinely SAVED
You need to turn from your sin in repentance and depend on Christ by faith. Exchange all that you are for all that He is–do that today.
B Let me ask you–are you baptized?
Do you have any sin which must be repented of today? Is there someone you need to forgive and cover their sin–or if you can’t, confront their sin? Are you singing praise to Christ unhindered and undistracted–with celebration?
Are you making any effort, in your unique way, to share the Gospel with the lost? Are you faithfully, sacrificially giving of your time and finances to the church? Have you become a member and joined that which is eternal, the Church of Christ?