The Means of Producing the Marks
A typical elemental theology will often present two descriptive alliterations drawn from the scriptures concerning the Lord’s Church: organism and organization. As an organism, the New Testament Church is several times referred to as “the body of Christ,” with Jesus Christ as its Head (Col 1:18). The body of Christ is made up of many members with a distinct relationship one with another (Rom 12:5), submissive to its Head, Jesus Christ the Righteous King.
The other descriptor for the Church is that of an organization. This is easily recognized through the Lord Jesus’ teaching on the subject of His Church when He spoke of the necessity for correction among the redeemed through disputes, misunderstandings and correction upon sin; and in cases of unrepentant sin, casting those out of the fellowship of believers (Matt 18:15-19). Paul applied the latter to a very disconcerting case of sin in Corinth for the desired purpose of seeing the sinner restored through genuine repentance after being separated from the fellowship and being delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Cor 5:1-13; 2 Cor 2:5-8).
From the beginning of New Testament history expressed in the Acts of the Apostles, deacons were recognized and installed for order and discipline quite early as the church grew (Acts 6:1-6). Disorder in the local Churches was addressed as quickly as possible, as was the case with Corinth, even as it pertained to spiritual gifts and the public worship of God: “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40).
Orderly discipline by submission to the Lord Jesus as Head of His Church is the core means from which all other means flow. In this way, the Church’s conduct may be established and manifested; and this more specifically, by the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit according to scripture for the glory of Christ (Jn 14:26; 16:13, 14).
The means set forth in God’s Word are necessary for the manifestation of those marks stated previously; else we are given over to nothing more than legalism or pragmatism. This is evident by the lives of the religious leaders of Christ’s time, as their pious works were manifested for all to see, yet, the Lord’s indictment of their means and motivations caused even the best of their works to be as an unclean thing: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves” (Matt 23:15). Evangelism is certainly a mark of a true Church, yet, the Lord’s rebuke clearly states that there was nothing of God and nothing of Christ in their works.
A departure of the means to produce the marks of a true Church is increasingly evident in America despite great awakenings of revival in the past. Are local Churches growing in number? Certainly, but at what cost? Are they growing at the expense of expository preaching? Are more people entering the assembly due to a compromise in conversion? Is another gospel proclaimed, one that lacks power and scriptural basis? Are many running dangerously close to offering strange fire before the Lord, or succumbing altogether as did Nadab and Abihu of old? (Lev 10:1-11).
Because the scriptures declare that a heavenly goal may only be accomplished by heavenly means, we recognize that a compromise of the means results in a corruption of the goal. With every good intention we may overreact to the prevailing winds of pragmatism today only to dwell dangerously close to legalism. Christ indicts the scribes and Pharisees for meticulous observance of the law while forsaking the more important matters of the law: judgment, mercy and faith (Matt 23:23).
Efforts in maintaining the means in order to attain the marks will only cause us to stagger back and forth between the two undesirable states: legalism and pragmatism. Sadly, deception from self and the enemy, which presses against the weakness of flesh in its total depravity will result in a pseudo-faith condemned by Christ as the work of iniquity (Matt 7:21-23). What must be done? We must nurture an understanding of, an appreciation for, and a submission to our nature as Christ’s Church so that we may be truly free.
This is part two of a three-part article. The complete article originally appeared in The Sovereign Grace Messenger from the Summer 2011 issue. The Sovereign Grace Messenger is the periodical published approximately three times per year by the Sovereign Grace Baptist Fellowship.
. Part Three will appear tomorrow. Part Four, which was not a part of the original article, will be posted following that.