Understanding Theology - Lesson 9

The Church

Dr. Ware talks about the church universal and the local church. He discusses the offices of the local church, including the roles of elders and deacons. Dr. Ware also looks at how the church can be organized and what ordinances should be celebrated by a local body of believers.

Bruce Ware
Understanding Theology
Lesson 9
Watching Now
The Church

I. The Universal Church

A. The Nature of the Church

1. Jesus Christ is Lord of the Church

2. The Church is formed by the Spirit.

3. The Church unites Jew and Gentile.

4. The Church is the community of the New Covenant.

5. The Church is a testifying community.

6. The Church is a worshipping community.

B. New Testament Metaphors for the Church

1. The Church is the Body of Christ

2. The Church is the Bride of Christ

3. The Church is Christ’s Building

4. The Church is Christ’s Flock

II. Local Congregations or Churches

A. Offices in the Local Church

1. The Role of Elders

2. The Role of Deacons

3. The Role of Men and Women in Ministry

B. Organization of the Local Church

1. Episcopalianism

2. Presbyterianism

3. Congregationalism

C. Ordinances: Baptism and The Lord’s Supper

1. Baptism

a. Infant Baptism (Reformed, Lutheran, Catholic)

b. Believer’s Baptism (Anabaptist, Baptist)

2. The Lord’s Supper

a. The Transubstantiation View (Catholic)

b. The Consubstantiation View (Lutheran)

c. The Spiritual View (Reformed)

d. The Memorial View (Zwinglian)

Class Resources
  • Studying systematic theology in this 10-hour course will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of the doctrines of the Christian faith, from God and Christ to sin, salvation, the church, and the last things. By exploring these doctrines, you will strengthen your faith, gain hope and courage, and deepen your knowledge of God's character, work, and purposes. This course is liberating and will provide you with the truth that sets you free to live in the light of God's promises.
  • This is the first of ten lectures on Systematic Theology, a survey of the whole corpus of theology, and each lecture will be one hour long and each covering a separate doctrine or series of doctrines together. In this lesson Dr. Ware introduces the what and why of theology and discusses the foundational doctrines of Revelation and Scripture.

  • In this lesson, Dr. Ware discusses the Doctrine of God proper: why we need to know God, his incommunicable attributes, and those attributes that in some sense are communicable to humans.

  • Dr. Ware discusses the biblical basis for monotheism and trinitarianism. He also gives a brief overview of the history of the doctrine and the heresies that arose concerning the Trinity.

  • This lesson is an overview of the doctrines of humanity and sin, including a discussion of the origin of humanity, what it means to be created in the image of God, the nature and effects of sin, and original sin.

  • In this lesson, Dr. Ware discusses the doctrine of the Person of Christ, which includes his pre-incarnate existence, his incarnation, his deity and his humanity. He also discusses the important Christological passage of Philippians 2:6-8 and what does it mean that Christ “emptied” himself. Dr. Ware concludes this lesson with a discussion of the Council of Chalcedon.

  • Dr. Ware discusses the past (Atoning Savior), present (Mediator and Lord) and future (Coming Judge and Reigning King) work of Christ.

  • In this lesson, Dr. Ware discusses the person of the Holy Spirit, both his personhood and his deity. He also covers the work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, in the life of Jesus, and in the church.

  • This lesson is an overview of the doctrine and process of salvation, beginning with election and then discussing calling, regeneration, conversion, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and, finally, the glorification of the believer.

  • Dr. Ware talks about the church universal and the local church. He discusses the offices of the local church, including the roles of elders and deacons. Dr. Ware also looks at how the church can be organized and what ordinances should be celebrated by a local body of believers.

  • In this final lesson, Dr. Ware gives a rationale for studying eschatology or last things. He discusses what happens to people just after they die and before the return of Christ. He also gives an overview of the various beliefs about the timing and events of the last days. He completes the lesson with a discussion of final judgment, heaven, and hell.

We all have a theology, a set of beliefs, but many are not able to articulate it or really understand it. This class will walk you through a basic evangelical understanding of God and his Word.

Recommended Books

Understanding Theology - Student Guide

Understanding Theology - Student Guide

We all have a theology, a set of beliefs, but many are not able to articulate them or really understand them. This class will walk you through a basic evangelical...

Understanding Theology - Student Guide

Dr. Bruce Ware
Understanding Theology
The Church
Lesson Transcript

We begin now lecture nine, The Doctrine of the Church. This is a wonderful area because it really does relate to all of us. Our lives, as we live out the Christian faith, we do so in community as those who are gathered together to grow in Christ and to serve one another through the power of the Spirit. The word church comes from the Greek word ecclesia in the New Testament. And so this doctrine is sometimes called ecclesiology, taken from that term ecclesia. And the term ecclesia means called out ones. So the church is really a called out people, called out to be the people of God, called out to be followers of Christ, called out to be a community where the Spirit is at work in forming us to be become more and more like Christ in this age, and a community from which people go and bring others to faith in Christ.

When you look at the term ecclesia in the New Testament, you find that it is used in two contexts, two ways, to refer to the broader church in terms of all the people of God from the time of Pentecost on who have put their faith in Christ. So you might think of this as the universal church. Passages like Matthew 16:18 where Jesus said, "I will build my church and the gates of hell will not resist it or stand against it." So there, he's not talking about a church building on the corner of First and Main Street, but rather the church, "I will build my church." And that's all of the Christian people of this age constitute the church of Jesus Christ.

You can see universal church also in 1 Corinthians 10:32, "Give no offense to either Jews or Greeks or to the Church of God." So again, he's using church there not as one specific local church, but as the church of Jesus Christ, broadly speaking. For example, you can look on your own at the Ephesians 3:10, Colossians 1:24 would be other examples of the universal church. 

But then ecclesia is also used of local gatherings of believers, what we call local churches. For example, in 1 Corinthians 1:2, the Church of Corinth. Galatians 1:2, the churches in Galatia. 1 Thessalonians 1:1, local church again. Even in Colossians 4:15, the Church of Thessalonica or the church gathered at Nymphas' house. So we have a very specific location of a home church mentioned there.

Church can be universal church and local church, according to the way the word is used in the New Testament. And I think that's helpful just to think in terms of working first at understanding the universal church. And then from that, see what local churches should be. In other words, a local church can only rightly be called a church if it fulfills the ideals and the values, the principles that apply to the universal church. Just to give you a silly kind of analogy, suppose you pulled into a Taco Bell restaurant and you order a taco and they tell you, "We don't have tacos here." Well, then you would say, "Well, then, why do you call yourself Taco Bell?" So if you're a church, you need to be a church that embodies the principles that relate to all churches, that relate to the universal church. So I think it's helpful to start with the universal church first and then move from that to see what local churches are meant to do in fulfilling that.

So under Roman numeral one, universal church, let's start with the nature of the church and look at some of the elements that make up the church as it is, broadly speaking, the church of Jesus Christ. I have here six elements that I would suggest to you really do comprise the heart of what is the nature of the universal church. So any church, any local church that rightly claims to be church should embody these six elements. And the first one I think is arguably, without question, the top one on the list, and that is that Christ is the Lord of the church. Again, Jesus said, "I will build my church." So we may talk about local churches as being so-and-so's church. But actually, every single local church, if it is a church, a genuine church, it is the church of Jesus Christ because he is the Lord of the church. Again, Matthew 16, "I will build my church," in verse 18 indicates this is all his.

And we'll look in a moment at metaphors for the church. But it's very clear that all the metaphors of the church, that Christ is the central figure. He's the great shepherd, we're the sheep. He's the head of the church, we're the body. He's the bridegroom, we're the bride. And on and on. You just realize that the central figure of the church is Jesus Christ. He's the one who calls us to follow him. I mean, we are called Christians, right? So we are followers of Christ. We are to obey his will. We are to pass on his commandments. He is Lord of all of us.

And I think, just practically speaking, this is a very important principle to realize. It applies not only to the universal church, which of course it does, but it means then that we need to acknowledge, in our local churches, Christ is Lord of this church. We follow his bidding. We do his will. We seek to know through prayer and through study of the scriptures what he wants us to do because he's Lord. It's not my church. It's not our church. We don't have the right to go this on our own and make of it what we think it should be. We submit to Christ. And indeed, this should be our goal because Christ is Lord of the whole church. He's Lord of every local church then as well.

Well, if the first most important point of the church is that Christ is of the Lord of the church, the second one I think has to be second, and that is that it is formed by the Spirit. What really marks off the church as church is not only that Christ has died and been raised and ascended to the right hand of the Father, but that he has given to the church the Spirit by which we can be empowered to glorify Christ and to fulfill the purposes that Christ has for us. You may remember in John 16, Jesus said that, "When the Spirit comes, he will not speak on his own initiative. But what he hears from me, that's what he will speak. He will glorify me for he will take of mine and disclose it to you."

So really, that phrase, he will glorify me, you might think of as the banner truth of the purpose of the Spirit. His primary mission is to bring glory to Christ. And he does that in his ministry in the church as he works to bring people to faith in Christ, as he empowers believers to bear witness of Christ, and as he gives gifts to the body of Christ to help each person to be useful in that body to help others grow in Christ. And as he works in each one of our lives and we grow as Christians, this is the work of the Spirit within us that does this. So formed by the Spirit, brought into Christ is such an important aspect of the church.

And as we mentioned in the previous lecture, this was not true for Old Testament Israel. The people of God in the Old Testament did not have the Spirit dwelling within them. There are passages that speak of the Spirit in the midst of the people, but not as the indwelling presence in every believer's life under the old covenant. But in the new covenant, "I will put my Spirit within you." So indeed, the Spirit is within us to help us to be the people of God and to do what we do to the glory of Christ. So Christ is Lord of the church. We are formed by the Spirit.

Third, Jew and Gentile are united and they're united in a particular way that is distinctive in the new Covenant Church period. There are promises in the Old Testament of Jew and Gentile worshiping together. Did you know that? In fact, there are many astonishing statements in the Old Testament of the day that will come when the nations of the world will join Israel in worship of the true and living God.

So for example, one of the most amazing ones is in the end of Isaiah 19, here's what we read. Let me begin at verse 21. "Then the Lord will make himself known to Egypt and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day. They will even worship with sacrifice and offering and will make a vow to the Lord and perform it. The Lord will strike Egypt." We know what that means, in the days of the Exodus when Egypt was struck by God. But listen, "The Lord will strike Egypt, striking but healing so they will return to the Lord and he will respond to them and will heal them." This is Egypt he's referring to. "In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrians will come into Egypt and the Egyptians into Assyria."

If you know your biblical geography, Israel is here. Egypt is down below here and Assyria is up over here. So there's a highway that goes through Jerusalem, through Israel for the two of them to meet. So let me read again. "There will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrians will come into Egypt and the Egyptians into Assyria and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians. In that day, Israel will be the third party with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, blessed is Egypt, my people. And Assyria, the work of my hands. And Israel, my inheritance."

So just a sample of a number of passages we could look at that indicate the day is going to come when the Gentiles, the nations other than Israel, that would include Egypt and Assyria, the Gentiles and the Jews will worship together. But the way that the Jews thought of this was that Gentiles will become Jews, they will be proselyted, right? They will come under the law of Moses. They will accept the food laws, they will accept the sacrificial system. So they will essentially become Jews in order to worship with the Jews. But surprise, it doesn't work that way when you come to the New Testament. It isn't the fact that Gentiles have to become Jews, but rather Gentiles as Gentiles, Jews as Jews, come together in Christ. They are united in Christ.

One of the most important passages on this is Ephesians 2, beginning at verse 11. If you would like to look there in your own Bibles, Ephesians 2:11. We read this, "Therefore, remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called the uncircumcision by the so-called circumcision, which is performed in the flesh by human hands. Remember, that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world." Let me stop right there. Verse 12 indicates that Gentiles, because they were not part of the covenants given to Israel, they weren't part of the Davidic covenant, they weren't part of the new covenant. God said in the new covenant, "I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah declares the Lord." So they were not the subjects of the promises that God made of his saving work. They were excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise. Therefore, they had no hope. They were without God in this world.

"But now in Christ Jesus, you who were formerly far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall by abolishing in his flesh the enmity, which is the law of commandments contained in the ordinances, so that he might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace. And might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross by it having put to death the enmity."

So here we have this amazing statement of Jew and Gentile coming together in Christ. This was a very important thing in the early church, that is the church of the New Testament, because there were a number of Jewish converts to Christianity who continued to claim that if you're going to be a Jewish convert to Christianity, you still need to keep the laws of Moses. You still need to be circumcised, you still need to come under the food laws. And this became a point of real discussion and ultimate division in the early church where the council of Jerusalem met, in Acts 15, and they made the decision, no, this is not the case, that God does not call Gentiles to become circumcised. He doesn't call Gentiles to come under the food laws. Gentiles can remain Gentiles, Jews can remain Jews. And what unites them is not Gentiles becoming Jews, but both Gentiles and Jews becoming Christians. That is, coming into one body in Christ unites them together.

So there is this union that is distinctive of the church. It's not like Gentiles who became part of Israel in the Old Testament, a Gentile like Ruth, the Moabites or something like that. It's rather the case that here these are Gentiles who remain Gentiles and don't need to be circumcised. So Jew and Gentile, united then in one body in Christ becomes a very important marker of the universal church.

Fourth, the community of the new covenant. I think a lot of Christians are not aware of the fact that we Christians too are a covenant people. It's not just that Israel had a covenant. They were a covenant people. They did. They were under the old covenant. But we too are a covenant people, and we have the new covenant. And I don't know if you're aware how wonderful that is, because the difference between the two covenants at their core is this, that under the old covenant, it was a conditional covenant that said, "If you obey me, I will bless you. If you disobey me, I will curse you." Now read again sometime Deuteronomy 28 and 29 to be reminded of the blessings and the cursings that God would bring upon the people in that old covenant.

But the new covenant which is established because the old covenant didn't work, right? The old covenant which was broken. God establishes a new covenant. And the new covenant is not based upon whether we obey or not. The new covenant is one in which God pledges to remake us from the inside out. So the words of the new covenant, "Behold I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, the house of Judah, declares the Lord, not like the covenant I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant, which they broke. But this is the covenant I will make with them. I will put my law within them and on their heart I will write it." Do you hear a difference right away? Where was the law before? On tablets of stone. Out there, external to them. Where is the law now? I will write the law on your heart.

What God does is take that law and print it upon our hearts so that we, by nature, by our new natures in Christ want to be a law keeping people. "So I will put my law within you, write it upon your hearts. You won't have to teach each one his neighbor, each one his brother saying, no, the Lord, for we will all know him from the least to the greatest, says the Lord." So indeed God will work so that law written on our hearts will result in all of us, all those who are part of the new covenant are Christians, are believers in God. All of us who are part of the new covenant know the Lord, in the language of Jeremiah 31.

We are a new covenant people, which means God has pledged, promised, has taken an oath that he will not stop until he has remade us to be the people of God. And of course, he uses the Spirit to do that. The Spirit is the one who writes the law on our hearts. As we read the word of God, the Spirit, as it were, etches away so that our hearts are conformed more and more to that law by the work of the Spirit within us. Paul really gets at that in Romans 8:3-4. Here's what he says, "What the law, the law of Moses, could not do weak as it was through the flesh, God did." Now let stop right there. What does he mean when he says, "What the law could not do, weak as it was by the flesh"? What he means is that the law, even though it was holy and righteous and good, Romans 7:12, even though it could announce for us the way we ought to live, what it was unable to do was make us keep the law.

In a sense, you might think of the Old Testament law as like a speed limit sign that announces for us that speed we ought to drive, but it has no power to make you drive that way. We all know that, don't we? So indeed it's like that. It announces how we ought to live, but it is impotent. It cannot make us keep it. "So what the law could not do, weak as it was through by sinful nature, God did, sending his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin. He condemns it in the flesh in order that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit."

So the Spirit works within to write the law on our hearts so that bit by bit by bit, little by little by little, we grow more and more into the likeness of Christ. We become more law keeping people, that is the law of Christ. We eventually are glorified where we keep the law completely, where we want to obey the Lord completely. So indeed, this work of the new covenant is a work of God by which he guarantees all of us who are the new covenant are his people and we will be remade to be a holy, obedient people.

Fifth, one of the marks of the church, universal, is that it is a testifying community. Testifying of the gospel of Christ, testifying of the glory of Christ, testifying of the work of God in the midst of the congregation of his great works that are done among us. That we become a community empowered by the Spirit to speak forth the word of God and to tell others the glories of Christ.

And then finally, it is a worshiping community, a community that is drawn together by the Spirit to bring glory to the Father principally as we worship the Son. The Son really is the focal point of our worship. Paul says in Philippians 3:3, "We are the true circumcision." We really are the people who fulfill what circumcision was pointing to in that we worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus. So the Spirit works within us to bring glory to Christ, which we know ultimately redounds to the glory of the Father. You can see that in Philippians 2, "Where every knee bows, every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord." Do you remember the last part of verse 11? "To the glory of God the Father." So we worship the Son in the power of the Spirit to the glory of the Father as those who are members of the church. Okay. So there's a broad stroked picture of the universal church.

Secondly, here are some metaphors for the church that apply of course to local churches. We can think of ourselves as a local flock, as it were, that sort of a thing. But here are some things that refer to the universal church. The first one is the church as the body of Christ. The church as the body of Christ. This is the most common metaphor that is used in the New Testament for the church.

And of course, the body indicates that it has a head. And the headship belongs to Christ. He's the one who stands as head of the church and over all things. Let me read from Ephesians 1 and just remind you of this. Ephesians 1:20, "This power that he brought about in Christ when he, the Father, raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominions, here you see he's lordship over all, and every name that is named. Not only in this age but also in the one to come." And he put all things in subjection under Christ's feet and gave Christ, as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all."

So clearly, Christ is the head of the church, the one who is in charge, the one who has authority over. We follow his lead. We do his will. We teach each other what he commanded us in the great commission. We're told to do that even until the end of the age. So his headship over us is indicated by the metaphor of the church as the body and Christ is the head. So he has authority over us as the head. But also, being head, he's the one we are dependent upon. And so he nurtures us and feeds us and sustains us as those who are dependent upon Christ.

We're in the book of Ephesians. Just turn over to chapter four, verses 15 and 16. We read this, "Speaking the truth in love. We are to grow up in all aspects into him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body being fitted and held together by whatever joint applies according to the proper working of each individual part causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love." So the head not only is the authority over the church, head of the church in that sense, but he's also the one who provides for the church all of its nourishment, all that we need in order to grow and become what Christ has called us to be.

And then one more point about the metaphor of the body of Christ is that this body then is also meant to work together in ways that each member supports the others. As Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12, we shouldn't think that one member is able to do everything that's needed in the church. No, there are many different members in the body of Christ. There's eyes and ears and hands and feet. Different members do different things, and we all need each other. And when one member suffers, all suffer. And we all need the ministry.

I often think people come to church and they think of themselves in one of two categories. They think of themselves either as givers or receivers. So like the Sunday school teachers, they're the givers. The pastor who preaches Sunday morning, he's the giver. But then there's people who come and they're just the receivers. They're just there to listen and take in and walk away being filled with what was there. But the fact of the matter is every one of us should come to church recognizing that we are both givers and receivers. We need to give to others from the gifts God has given us, and we need to receive from others what God has given them to benefit us in ways that we need. So indeed there is an interdependence of the members of the body of Christ on each other that we see in this metaphor of the church as the body of Christ.

Secondly, the bride of Christ is another beautiful metaphor of the church. An amazing statement is made by the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 11. Let me read verses one and two. He says, "I wish that you would bear with me in a little foolishness. But indeed you are bearing with me, for I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy, for I betrothed you to one husband so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin."

So here's Paul writing to the Corinthian church, wanting so badly for their purity, their obedience, their faithfulness. Why? Because one of the reasons, he states here in this verse, that when he brought them to Christ, it's as if he betrothed them to Christ and he wants to present them in the end to Christ in purity, that is people who have been faithful to Christ, not people who have been unfaithful. So this metaphor of the church as the bride of Christ really does call for us to embrace the realization that we are devoted only to Christ as a bride would be devoted to the groom and the one who would become her husband. And that should be our attitude also. We don't play the field, we don't mess around with others. We stick with our devotion to Christ. And this is what this metaphor highlights.

Of course, it's developed also in Ephesians 5, where Paul describes the marriage relationship to be what it is. Why is it the wife submits to the husband? Why is it the husband should love his wife? Well, because both represent what the relationship between Christ and the church is. So the wife should submit to her husband as the church submits to Christ. And the husband needs to love his wife as Christ loves the church and gave himself for her. It really dignifies submission I think for wives, Christian wives, to realize, my goodness, I can represent before a watching world what the church is to be before Christ. And this is what I'm called to be, to submit to my husband as the church submits to Christ.

And it dignifies the role of the husband where he realizes his role is to love his wife as Christ loves the church, to give himself for her, to sanctify her, to help her grow in Christ. It's really, a christian husband's main goal with his wife is the Christian formation, Christ formation that takes place within her, her sanctification. Yes, other things are important, but that's number one. That's top of the list, is how can I be instrumental in helping my wife grow to become more like Christ and, by that, love my wife as Christ loves the church and sanctifies her? So that's my goal with my wife. So the wife and the husband in a relationship then model before the world the relationship of Christ and the church.

The third metaphor that I want to think with you about is the church as a building. And there are two main passages here that speak in this manner. Ephesians 2:19-22. Ephesians 2:19-22 and 1 Peter 2:4-7. 1 Peter 2:4-7. Both of these speak of the building that is the church that's built upon the foundation of Christ and Christ as the cornerstone. This image of the church being built, first of all has in mind the foundation, the cornerstone that is there, that is Christ.

The cornerstone is such an important stone in a building in ancient days because the cornerstone needed to be carved, cut exactly right so that as it's put in the ground, there's a 90 degree angle that goes out from its sides. So the walls of the building then go out in the right direction that they can meet and make a square building. And likewise, it needs to be exactly vertical going straight up so that things that are built upon it won't tip one way or the other. So the whole building takes its dimensions from the cornerstone. So indeed that cornerstone is so very important. And Peter talks about that, and Paul both talk about that cornerstone in those passages.

But then there's also, in Ephesians 2, in particular, the church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus being the cornerstone. So here we have the larger sense in which Christ is working through the apostles and prophets provides the teaching and the body of doctrine that the church needs, that is established by those apostles and prophets. The foundation built by Christ, but using apostles and prophets to do that.

And then the other aspect of the building metaphor relates to the stones of the building itself, then become the members of the body of Christ. In 1 Peter 2, he refers to these stones as living stones, which is just an interesting image, isn't it? Because you think of a stone being a pretty lifeless object. But Peter is taking some liberties here to think of those stones as living stones in order to convey that we join one another as living persons who work together in the formation of this church, who want to help each other grow and become strong and vibrant in Christ. And all of this results ultimately in a dwelling of God in the Spirit. So the building is Spirit empowered and Spirit indwelt as not only each one of us individually has the Spirit, but the collective body of Christ has the Spirit as well. So the church is a building.

And then finally, the church as Christ's flock. And of course, the main passage for this is John 10, which speaks of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, and we as his sheep. And there really, it's a simple metaphor, it's not complicated. The shepherd's main role is to protect the sheep and feed the sheep, to guide them to good pasture and to clear water where they can thrive as sheep and develop, protect them from the predators. So this is Christ's role, as the Good Shepherd, to take care of us in all of those ways. But then we are called to be the sheep of the shepherd. And really, the number one responsibility that we see in John 10 is this, "My sheep hear my voice and they follow me." Right? So following the shepherd. You might think, what a simple thing that is to do. Well, then let's do it. Let's follow Christ and believe his word and trust his character and follow him faithfully. This is what the church is called to do, to be followers of Christ. "My sheep hear my voice and they follow me."

I'll never forget this incident. I've only been to Israel once, but when I was there, this is many years ago, it was very, very hot. We had gone down to the Negev, southeast of Jerusalem, rocky, dry, country, 110 degrees. We were parched and were coming up this hill for some lunch and stopped at the side of a road with some trees for shade. And as we were sitting there eating our lunch, I noticed down below that there were a whole bunch of sheep. I mean, goodness, several hundred sheep down there. And they all had colored splotches, ink splotches on the nap of their neck, on the wool that was on the back of their necks and either a kind of greenish or reddish splotches. And they were all mixed together.

And I didn't notice because it was so far away, I didn't notice until I heard a sound that there were also two shepherds that were down there, and they had been sitting on a rock at the bottom of the valley talking together. And evidently they were done with that and they were leaving to take their sheep back with them and each of them called out. And the calls from each of them sounded so similar. But guess what happened at the moment that those two shepherds called and walked in opposite directions? That all these sheep that were intermixed, all the ones with the greenish splotches separated out and followed the shepherd. And all the ones with the reddish splotches separated out and followed that shepherd. And not a single red one went with the green or a green one went with the red. They all knew the voice of their shepherd and they followed him.

I just sat there astonished, realizing I was watching John chapter 10 being lived out in front of me. "My sheep hear my voice and they follow me." This is what we're called to do as the shepherd's flock, is to follow the voice of our shepherd, knowing he cares for us, he loves us, he is committed to our wellbeing. He will protect us, he will provide for us. And of course, this shepherd is unlike any human shepherd that he is able to employ heaven's resources and supernatural power to do everything that is necessary for the wellbeing of his flock. We can trust him with all of our hearts for everything we face.

Okay, now we're moving on to the second area of the local church or local congregations. And here we want to look at three areas of offices or organization and ordinances. First of all, offices in the church. It's pretty clear from the New Testament that there are two offices that we are expected to have represented in our local churches, the offices of elder and Deacon. You can see this for example in 1 Timothy 3, where qualifications are given for both of these offices. And there's not another office mentioned. These are the two that are regularly stated in the New Testament.

So he says, for example, at the beginning of 1 Timothy 3, "It is a trustworthy statement. If any man aspires to the office of overseer." Now here it's interesting, elder and overseer can both be translations of terms in Greek that really refer to the same office. Presbuteros and episcopas, are Greek terms which refer to the same office. We shouldn't think of those as two different offices. The office of the presbuteros and the office of the episkopoi. They're two names for the same thing.

So here he uses the term episkopoi, which is translated as overseer, but it's the same thing as an elder. "An overseer then must be above reproach. The husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine and so on." He goes through other qualifications. Then down at verse eight he says, "Deacons, likewise must be men of dignity, not double tongued or addicted to much wine, fond of sordid gain, but holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience."

So what you realize when you look at these qualifications for deacons and for elders in the church, these two offices, that really the primary qualifications for both of them are character qualifications. Namely, they're godly men, they're faithful with their families. They are endeavoring to honor Christ in the way they live their lives. Really, the difference between the two is not character. Character is about the same for both of them. That is the character qualifications. The difference lies in two particular responsibilities that elders have that are not given to deacons. Elders are to be able to teach the faith, once and for all give it to the saints, to teach and also to exercise authority over them.

Since we're in 1 Timothy, turn over to chapter five because you can see this. Verse 17, he says, "The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at teaching and preaching." So here you have those two main areas that are specific to elders. They have the responsibility to rule, that is to make decisions as a prayerful, faithful, godly group of men who will gather together to think through what is best for the future of our church, the direction we should go, the kinds of things that we need to commit ourselves to in programs and using our finances and so on. So elders have that responsibility of rulership. But also, they have the responsibility of teaching and preaching. Both of those fall on the elders.

Whereas deacons, the role of deacon really I think comes principally from Acts 6. In Acts 6, you may remember that there were some of the women, the widows who were being overlooked in the daily serving of food that was being distributed by the early Christians. "So the 12 summoned the congregation together," this is verse two, "and they said, 'it's not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables, therefore select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit of wisdom and whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.' The statement found approval with the whole congregation. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit and Philip and Procorus and others who joined them. And these were brought forward to the apostles. And after praying for them, they laid their hands on them and they became what really became the first deacons of the church."

The term deacon isn't used of them, but it says that they were involved in serving tables. And the word deacon, diakonos, if translated literally simply means to serve, servants. So these are servants of the church. But notice here the apostles really kind of in the role of elders, although they are apostles, but they say we will not neglect the word of God in prayer in order to serve tables. So they realize their role as elders, in this case apostles, is to study the word of God and to proclaim the word of God and to pray, be involved in that kind of more of the Spiritual side of the wellbeing of the people of God. And the deacons are involved in more of the physical wellbeing of the people.

So Spiritual needs, elders have primary responsibility. Physical needs, everyday kinds of needs, deacons have more of that responsibility. We don't have a lot of specificity in the New Testament of what deacons do. I mean, here's one example of it. But I think if you go from Acts 6, we really should think of our deacons in the church as fulfilling needs that are helpful to our particular congregation. I know in the church that I'm a part of here in Louisville, Kentucky, because we have so many young families that are having children, that one of the most important deacon responsibilities is that of meals distributed to new mothers and also to the sick and the infirmed and so on. So this meal ministry is a very important ministry of our church, and it requires diaconal supervision for that. And so we have a woman, who is a very godly woman, who is responsible in that ministry. My own wife is a deacon in our church. She serves as the deacon of women's ministry and puts together a lot of programs and things that are involved in that as part of her responsibility in that.

And by the way, I do think women can be deacons. Turn back to 1 Timothy 3 again. There is some dispute over what Paul means when he switches in his discussion of deacons, he switches to women in verse 11. He has been given the qualifications for deacons in verses 8, 9 and 10. And then he continues in verses 12 and 13, but he interrupts it in verse 11 with, "Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things." And because it just says women, that's what it says in Greek, gynaíka, just that. We don't know if he means the wives of the deacons. That's a possibility. Or if it means women deacons, it could be either one.

My own view is it's most likely women deacons because if Paul was concerned with the wives of deacons that they be godly women, how much more would he be concerned, I would think, with the wives of elders? But he doesn't mention that. So the fact that he doesn't mention wives of elders but rather puts this in for women, I think he has in mind women deacons. And it really flows in terms of, it's not so much an interruption as it is continuing the thought in terms of character qualifications for men, male deacons in verses 8, 9 and 10. And then female deacons in verse 11. And then he goes back to specifically the role in the home for the male deacons. So I think there is sense you can make of the order of this. But nonetheless, that's my view and the view of our church is that we think this does indicate then women deacons.

And it does make sense because women being deacons doesn't violate anything that Paul specifically says can only be done by qualified men in the church. So he says in 1 Timothy 2:12, "I don't allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over the church." Just think of those two things. What did we just say earlier? Those are the particular realm of elders, teaching. They must be apt to teach, able to teach, and they need to rule their household well so they can rule the church of God. So the teaching and exercising authority are those things that are prescribed only for qualified men to do, not women. Only men can be elders. But he doesn't say that in regard to deacons. And here he includes women in the qualifications for deacons. So I think the best argument is that this refers to women deacons, and it doesn't violate anything that relates to elder principles that are for men only.

So just one more comment, the question of the role of men and women in ministry. I do think that we just need to embrace what the New Testament says here in terms of the role of men as qualified to be elders in the church, but not women. So only men should be teachers of the church. "I don't allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man." But then we shouldn't over restrict what women can and cannot do. I know some churches who won't allow women to usher, they won't allow women to pray in church. They won't allow women to read scripture or anything like that. And I just think we need to ask the question, are these cultural standards that we've come up with, are they traditions that we're holding onto or are they really based in the teaching of the Bible?

And I mean you see in 1 Corinthians 11 where women pray and prophesy in the church. Now they need to have their head covered. They need to acknowledge that there is male authority in the church, but they pray and prophesy. And the closest thing to prophecy we have today is reading scripture, because prophecy was a direct revelation of God to others. I don't believe that gift has continued. Many do, of course. But I don't. But the closest thing there is to prophecy to us today is just standing and reading scripture. And women could do that in 1 Corinthians 11 as well as praying. So let's not over-regulate, over restrict what women can do, but let's be sure to uphold what scripture says. Even if we don't understand why, we need to accept God is infinitely wise, not us. And he is the one who has all authority, not us. So let's follow his lead, knowing that what he has spoken to us on these things cannot be improved upon. They are what is best.

Okay, moving on then to organization of the local church. And here just briefly, the New Testament does not ever prescribe in such detail the organization of the church that it just is clear to everybody. And so there have been, through the history of the church, three different main ways that churches have seen that they want to be organized. One is the Episcopalian form of government that would understand bishops to be over a whole bunch of churches. So to have a bishop as you have in United Methodist Church, in the Anglican Church, in the Episcopal Church in the Lutheran Church of America, you see these bishops who have authority over a number of churches. And really, the argument for that is that they see the bishops as taking place of the apostles of the early church so that when the apostles die out, there's a need for one who is sort of like an apostle, let's call them a bishop, who has the ability to oversee what's happening in a whole region of churches and help them make changes and the like.

They also argue that the Episcopalian form of government started early in the church. And so the church did in fact rely upon bishops, that is godly men who were pastors, who would then take charge of a whole number of churches in particular areas. You may know that Augustine of Hippo, for example in North Africa was a bishop over a number of churches. So they argue that this is the way the early church developed and it is the most natural extension of the apostles.

The problem with both those arguments is this, that there's no indication in the New Testament that when the apostles end, that the role of the apostle is to continue. The apostles are over. And what Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:2 to Timothy, this pastor of a local church is this, "The things which you have heard from me," I'm an apostle, "in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." So it doesn't look as though there's an ongoing apostolic role. But rather, these apostles have given this teaching to faithful pastors who will teach others. And so you have individual local churches with their leadership rather than some kind of ongoing apostolic sort of governance.

And then the historical argument, yes, they did rely upon bishops. But you've got to remember, in that early church, both persecution and heresy were tremendous problems that led them to want to get some help from the very few people who had education, who could read and had access to the scriptures. So I think there are reasons historically why that developed without necessarily indicating from that that that's normative.

The second one is Presbyterianism. It is similar to the Episcopalian form of government in that there is governance over a number of churches, but this is done by a number of presbyters who come together. So it's not one bishop who is over them all. It's a group of presbyters from those churches who have governance over a number of churches. And here, the Presbyterian form of government likes to invoke Acts 15 in support of their view, where a number of church leaders were called together to handle the question over whether Christians need to be circumcised and the food laws and so on. And so they use that as an example of how this is a way in which the church sought to organize itself by having these people meet together and have authority over a number of churches.

Well, there's a couple responses. Number one, this is still during the time of the apostles. And there's no question that the apostles did have authority over many churches. So it's hard to say though if there were not apostles, if this had been done later, if they would've viewed it as the kind of same authority that you would have over churches. Secondly, you can accomplish the same thing as you see in Acts 15, not by having full and permanent, as it were, presbyters who have authority over churches, but advisory committees. Namely, you get together an ad hoc group of people to talk about issues and deal with things. Like in the Southern Baptist Convention, each church is autonomous and yet there are many different groups of people who can get together and deal with issues together and give advice to churches. So you could still accomplish the goal of Acts 15 without having a permanent structure that you have in the Presbyterian type of organization where you have permanent presbyters with authority over them.

And then finally, congregationalism is the form of church government in which each church is responsible itself to govern and rule itself. And sometimes this is done with elders who have elder rule over the church within that one local church. And other times it's through the congregation as a whole who takes a vote, and it's the majority vote of the congregation in which decisions are made, then the church moves forward. But what is common, whether it's elder rule or whether it's congregational in terms of the authority within the church, what is common to the two of them is they both agree that the church has autonomy. The church is independent from other churches or other organizations in terms of authority over the church. The authority lies within local churches.

It does seem, when you look at the New Testament, that the emphasis is on the elders and the presbyters and so on that are in local churches. That is by far and away the emphasis made, and yet the congregation is involved in making final decisions. So in Matthew 18, Jesus says if there is someone who has committed a sin and you go to him and he still is resistant, take someone with you as a witness. If he's still resistant, what do you do? Take it to the elders? Take it to the presbyters? Take it to the bishop? No, take it to the church. There is a sense in which the church, a local church then has the ultimate authority to make decisions on some of those major areas of the faith. So a church like ours here in Louisville, many churches are like it, see themselves as elder led, but congregational ruled. And I think that does fit together what you see in the New Testament in terms of the role of the elder and the congregation. And yet they are congregational insofar as they hold to the autonomy of the local church.

Then last of all, ordinances, two of them that Christ has given to the church. These are ones that he ordained for us to carry out, hence the name ordinances. Really, many Baptists, myself included, prefer not to use the word sacrament, mostly because it conveys something we don't want to convey. It conveys this notion that by doing the action of taking the Lord's supper or baptism, grace is automatically conferred to the person. That's part of the sacramental heritage. So we don't want to convey that. And actually, the word ordinance is better because it's what Christ ordained. So this is why we prefer that term.

With baptism, Christ ordained it in the great commission, "Go into all the world, make disciples of the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Spirit." So baptism in the New Testament, the word baptism, by the way, is a transliteration of the term baptizo, that's the Greek term. And the English translators, back in the time of the reformers, they believed in infant baptism. So they did not want to translate the term because if they did, here is what you would find in your bibles, instead of baptize, it would be submerge, dip, dunk, put underwater, because that's what the word literally means. Baptizo means submerge.

So the baptism in the New Testament clearly was going into water and coming out of water. It was an immersionist model. That's what baptism was, as opposed to sprinkling. Although there's nothing wrong with sprinkling, but it's really not what baptizo means, nor was it the practice of the early church. And then secondly, it was done to believers, it was believers' baptism. You find in the New Testament regular evidence of this, and no evidence that is convincing that baptism would be done to infants. Even with the Philippian jailer that believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and was saved. It says he and his household. And people assume from that that household must include babies who were there. But it doesn't say that. It says that all in his household heard and believed. Well if they hear and believe, I don't think that we're talking about babies, we're talking about maybe young children, but still old enough that they understood and they themselves embraced the teaching that was given to them.

So it's clear that the New Testament indicates baptism by immersion and baptism of believers to then mark them off. It's really the initiatory sign indicating they now identify with Christ. I mean, you think of baptism, the symbolism of it, that this person identifies with Christ who died, hence you go under the water, indicating you were with him in his death going to the grave. And then you come out of the water, indicating you are with him in his resurrection to newness of life. So his death and resurrection then becomes yours as you identify with Christ. And the act of baptism symbolizes that.

Then the Lord's supper, also instituted by Christ in the Last Supper of Christ where he commanded his disciples to take the bread and eat of it. "This is my body, broken for you. Take the wine and drink of it. This is my blood, shed for you." So these two elements of the body of Christ, the blood of Christ that are expressed in the bread and the fruit of the vine then are very poignant reminders to us on a regular basis. It does look like the early church did practice the Lord's supper every Sunday. And there's no regulation of that in the New Testament, but it ought to be a regular thing that we do often, that we do this together to remind ourselves as Jesus says, "In remembrance of me, in remembrance of me." So to remind ourselves of the significance of what happened when Christ died on the cross and how our lives are what they are because we are united now with Christ. His death is ours. His new life, resurrection life, is ours. And this is who we are. We are the people of Christ and we want to follow him.

Both of these ordinances, baptism focuses upon Christ's death and resurrection. The Lord's supper, on Christ giving his body for us until Christ comes again. And so the resurrection is likewise a part of that. But both remind us afresh of our connection to Christ, our new identity in Christ and help remind us of how important it is to follow Christ faithfully.

Just one more word on the Lord's supper. Some people think that the memorial view of the Lord's supper, to remember, do this in remembrance of me, just isn't very significant. But the fact of the matter is, you think all the way back to the flood, God put a rainbow in the sky. Why? So he would remember the promise that he made. This is God remembering this. So when you think of, do this in remembrance of me, think of remembrance not so much along the lines of, oh, I can't remember where I left my keys. Not so much that as, I want to remember on my 20th anniversary to my wife, I want to remember the vows I made. That's more what it is. Do you see it? The significance, the weight of what took place there that completely realigns my life, helps me understand now who I am in a totally new way and directs me forward in ways that would bring honor to Christ. Baptism, the Lord's Supper, beautiful memorials for what Christ has done for the church of Jesus Christ.

So back on the word baptism, and you were saying that in the Greek, it's baptizo and it has a certain meaning. In the Book of John, John the Baptist says that he baptizes with water, but there is one who is coming who will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit. It seems to me that the word baptism needs an adjective applied to it, otherwise, which are you going to default to, water or to what Jesus did? Elsewhere in the epistles when we are told to be baptized, I sometimes think we're talking about the baptism that Jesus does. We must be baptized by Jesus being born again in order to have salvation. Water baptism is an ordinance that we are supposed to do, but not technically required for salvation. But the baptism that Jesus brings upon us is required for salvation, if you get my distinction there.

That's right.

So I don't know if you had any comments on that.

Well, so the term baptism is also used of the Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13, "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greek, slaves or free, we are all made to drink of one Spirit." So I take it he means there, the kind of thing that you're referring to, with Jesus baptizing in the Holy Spirit and fire, that we are immersed into Christ by the Spirit. And I think that's the idea. We were baptized into one body by the Spirit. So the Spirit puts us into Christ. This submerging, immersing into Christ by the Spirit, which is our conversion, takes place at our conversion. And then water baptism is the outward sign of that inward reality that we have been put into Christ.

Okay. For instance, I think it's in Acts 2, when they ask Peter, "What must we do to be saved?" And he says, "Repent and be baptized."

For the forgiveness of sins.

"For the forgiveness of sins." I don't think he's saying that you have to undergo being submerged in water to be saved.

I see what you mean.

To me it sort of means, it's being baptized by Jesus, so to speak, as in 1 Corinthians.


I'm sure I'm a minority on that.

Well, that's an interesting solution to this question that has been raised many, many times. Because, as you know, the Christian Church holds that there are three requirements for being saved. You need to repent, you need to believe, and you need to be baptized. Those three. And one of their supporting texts is Acts 2:38, "Repent and be baptized each of you for the forgiveness of your sins, and you'll receive the Holy Spirit." So in that text, I wonder though the way that he ends it, "And you'll receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." That seems to me to argue more for the notion that this is water baptism, because then you'll receive the gift of the Spirit who comes. So now the question is though, is water baptism necessary? And I don't think so, in part because in the Book of Acts itself, in Acts 10, the Gentiles are converted, are saved before they're baptized.

And also in-

They receive the Spirit.

Peter's writing, he talks about the water baptism, not to save.

Doesn't save you.

But the act of a good confession or something.

So this is what Bob Stein, many people have argued, who have written on this, is that Peter says this, "Repent and be baptized," because he sees baptism as the required sign, outward sign of the inward reality that should happen right away. That there's really no disconnect between ones being placed in Christ spiritually and manifesting that in baptism. So that's why he sees them tied together so closely.


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