A Church is a community of disciples led by biblically qualified men who preach and teach God’s Word, who practice church discipline as guided by the teaching of Scripture, under the authority of Jesus Christ.
Now there are still a couple of significant gaps in this definition, that we’ll address today:
Serving (exercising gifts), The Sacraments (Baptism and Communion).
Reading 1 Peter, I came across this passage:
The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Pet 4:7-11).
Peter says in this passage that each true believer has received a gift from God—a spiritual gift. This gift (or gifts) are given for the purpose of serving one another, and by extension our communities, so that God would be glorified. None of us is given whatever gift we have to boast in that gift and hoard it for ourselves.
We are to do what we do to the glory of God, by His power and authority. Whether it’s music, writing, speaking, hospitality, greeting, intercessory prayer, encouragement… Whatever you’re passionate about, whatever you’re great at, in whatever way God’s gifted you, that is to be used to benefit others.
That’s what it means to be a “good steward of God’s varied grace,” as Peter says.
As part of their role in equipping the saints to do ministry (see Eph. 4:11-14), our spiritual authorities are to help encourage us to discover our gifts, and learn how to use them well to serve our local congregation and our larger community. And that includes the more contentious ones (like speaking in tongues). Where gifts become an issue is when theological positions are built to make certain gifts normative for all believers (and conversely when their position says that certain gifts are no longer operating). And the Bible doesn’t really allow for either. Paul’s exhaustive instruction to the Corinthians in 1 Cor 11-14 is a passage that I’d encourage us all to study in order to gain a healthy, biblical understanding of spiritual gifts.
We again have to turn back to Peter’s words:
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.
Celebration is a big part of Christianity. We have such a wonderful thing to celebrate! The coming of Jesus Christ—God the Son—into human history to die in our place, for our sins, and rise again to give us new life. The anticipation of Jesus’ second coming when he will usher in the new heavens and the new earth. This is really exciting and should be celebrated.
Historically, this has been done in two ways: Communion and Baptism. These are known as the sacraments.
Communion is the celebrated in remembrance of Christ’s death.
In Luke 22:19-20, Jesus says:
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is l the new covenant in my blood.”
Paul reminds the Corinthian church, whose practice of communion was actually an offense, of the same thing:
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that y the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Cor. 11:23-25).
Whenever we take communion, we proclaim the Lord’s death. It is to be done regularly, and only taken after one examines oneself and addresses and confesses unconfessed sin to the offended party (see 1 Cor 11:28-30). Paul goes so far as to say that to take communion with a wrong heart and wrong motive is to “drink judgment on himself.”
So while communion is certainly a celebration, it is still serious business.
Baptism, the second Christian sacrament, celebrates new life in Christ.
When issuing the great commission, Jesus commands His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matt. 28:20). All who believer are to be baptized as an outward celebration their inward transformation.
Concerning baptism, Peter writes,
Baptism…now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him (1 Pet. 3:21-22)
Baptism is not a bath. It is a declaration. Baptism saves, but only as it is rooted in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Rising from the water is representative of rising to new life in Jesus. Our sins are washed away and we now want to (and get to!) obey, and be in relationship with God. This is what I mean when I say it’s an outward celebration of an inward transformation.
So, we now come to a more complete definition of the church:
A Church is a community of disciples led by biblically qualified men who preach and teach God’s Word, who are equipped to do ministry, using their spiritual gifts for the benefit of others; who regularly practice the sacraments of communion and baptism; who practice church discipline as guided by the teaching of Scripture, under the authority of Jesus Christ.
But, in all of these things, in serving and using our gifts; in celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection; in teaching, training and practicing church discipline… All of these must be surrounded in prayer.
And that, we will address Monday.