ECCLESIOLOGY: THE DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH
Many people face a great deal of confusion about the church. Some have not had parental examples of church involvement. Others have recently been saved and are wondering how they should participate in the ministries of the church, or why the church is even necessary. Others have visited several churches and may still be looking for their "home church." Even those who have grown up in a particular local church have heard comments about church differences and divisions.We will be discussing why the church exists and what part each member is to contribute to please the Lord Jesus Christ in His Body--His ecclesia.
I Timothy 3:14,15 gives us some information concerning the church:
1. Martin Luther in the 16th century reinstated the doctrine of salvation through faith alone.
2. J.N. Darby in the19th century reinstated the doctrine of the church.
3. "Protestant theology has concerned itself largely with salvation truth to the neglect of the doctrine of the church." Chafer
4. The doctrine of the church was not even a subject of the O.T. prophecy.It was a mystery mentioned only twice in the Gospels(Matt 16:18; 18:17).
B. The word 'church' in the Scriptures
1. Basic meaning = ecclesia from verb EK-KALEO "to call out." So it's a called out group--selected from a larger group by a call.
2. Biblical usage:
I. THE CHURCH AS AN ORGANISM (the UNIVERSAL CHURCH)
A. Definition of the Church
1. General definition(Central Passages:
Eph 3:5-6 & I Cor 12:13)
2. Specific definition
B. Distinction of the Church from Israel
Many similarities do not prove identity; one dissimilarity disproves identity.
C. The Divine Description of the Church
These descriptions say much about our subjective relationship with Christ. Christianity is a relationship with a person, Jesus Christ. It is not just a religion full of facts and principles.
1. The Shepherd and the Sheep (Central Passage John 10)
2. The Vine and the Branches (Central Passage John 15)
3. The Building (temple) (Central Passage -- Ephesians 2:19-22)
Israel had a temple
I will build my quality
4. The High Priest and Royal Priesthood (Central Passage I Pet 2:5-9)
Christ pictured in O.T. sacrificial
system as High Priest.
5. The Head and Body (Central
Passage I Cor 12)
6.The Last Adam and the New Creation
7. The Bridegroom and the Bride (Central Passage Eph 5:22-23)
D. The Duty of the Church
"Strictly speaking, the church has no mission, for God never commissioned her as a corporate body to undertake any task whatsoever....all divine commissions are to the individual believers." Chafer
"Another error to be avoided in connection with this subject is the supposition that the divine purpose in this age is the conversion of the world." (This will happen after Christ's return.) Chafer
"The believer is never appointed of God to a world improvement program, but the believer is called to be a witness to all the world to Christ and His saving grace." Chafer
NOTE THREE MAINDUTIES OF THE CHURCH:
1. To glorify God (Eph 1:6, 12, 14; 3:10; I Cor 10:31)
2. To evangelize (Matt 28:19-20; Acts 1:8)
3. To edify the saints (Matt 28:19-20; Eph 4:7-16)
1. Rapture (Central Passage I Thessalonians 4:13-18)
2. Reward (Central Passage I Cor
3:10-15; II Cor 5:10)
3. Return and Reign (Central Passage Rev. 19,20)
II. THE CHURCH AS AN ORGANIZATION (the LOCAL CHURCH)
1. Hierarchial or Episcopal
2. Federal or representative
4. The national church (e.g. the church of England)
5. No government (ruled directly by Christ)
2. Deacons (Central Passage I Tim
Both ordinances symbolize our union with Christ:
Baptism -- initial union and the Lord's Supper -- continuing union.
1. Lord's Supper
THE ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT
of the most serious enemies facing the evangelical church
today is the modern day ecumenical movement. The
ecumenical movement -- the organized attempt to unify ALL
churches regardless of doctrinal differences -- is
nothing new. Churches and denominations with a low
view of Scripture and a high tolerance for theological
variances have long sought to unite the visible church.
To these organizations truth is not as important as
getting along and presenting a united front to the world
-- even if this front is only a facade. Therefore, the
drive toward ecumenicism has long been on the agenda of
the liberal churches, and is the goal behind the World
Council of Churches (WCC)and the National Council of
Churches(NCC). It is taken for granted by fundamental
believers that those churches that join the WCC or the
NCC have apostatized from the faith. As a result, in
obedience to Scripture the true follower of Christ
separates himself from such churches, parachurches, and
denominations (II Cor 6:14-18).
But there are new and dangerous winds blowing on the church today. It is no longer just the liberal, apostate church that is calling for unity at the expense of doctrine, now many so-called evangelicals are doing the same. This is not altogether unexpected since, in recent years, many evangelicals have developed the "live and let live" attitude toward those who teach heresy. But only recently have strong and trusted evangelicals called for the Christian community to ignore important doctrinal truths and unite with virtually anyone who claims to be a believer. To follow the leaders of this movement will ultimately cause many more church related organizations to apostasize, it will cripple our witness for Christ, and will further dampen true believers' interest in the truths found in the Word of God.
THE ECUMENICAL CALL TO THE EVANGELICAL CHURCH
The motivation behind ecumenicism among evangelicals originally was evangelism. Paul Crouch of Trinity Broadcast Network boldly states the case:
"I don't careabout your doctrines as long as you name the nameof Jesus, as long as you believe He died and wasburied but came out of the tomb on Sunday morningand ascended to the Father... I don't care aboutanything else! Let's join hands... to get thisgospel preached in all the world... The rest ofthis stuff is what Paul the Apostle calls dung --human excrement! It's not worth anything! Get ridof it... and get on with winning the lost...."
Crouch says rather bluntly what all of those who are involved in ecumenical evangelism (e.g. Billy Graham, Luis Palau, Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ, Youth for Christ, etc.) have been saying for years. Doctrine (God's truth) is not important, only the spreading of the gospel is. Apparently, in the opinion of these leaders, the Epistles of the N.T. were wasted words. Scripture warns of false doctrine but the evangelical church acts as if this in no problem. See I Tim 1:3-4; 6:3-5; Titus 1:9; Col 2:8; Gal 1:6-8 and Acts 20:26-31. Yet they claim we don't need to understand anything more than John 3:16. It should also be noted that these individuals misrepresent the Great Commission (Matt 28:19,20). We are not called to evangelize, we are called to make disciples (followers) of Christ. This cannot be accomplished without doctrine -- the doctrine taught in the Epistles.
Charles Colson has perhaps become the most vocal evangelical calling for ecumenicism today. His recently published book, The Body, while mingled with many great truths, is basically a treatise on the greatness of the modern day Roman Catholic Church (RCC). Both by way of illusatration and by actual statement, Colson argues that the RCC teaches the same truths as fundamental and evangelical churches. Therefore, we must break down the walls that separate us and unite as "Christians."
Nevermind that the RCC teaches 1)works salvation 2) that the RCC church traditions and the popes are given equal authority with Scripture 3) that the sacrifice of Christ was not sufficient for our salvation and is repeated at every mass 4)that Christ is not the only mediator between us and the Father -- rather we need Mary and the saints to go to bat for us, etc.
One of Colson's heros is Mother Teresa, who has done much humanitarian good in India, but nevertheless teaches traditional Catholic doctrines. Colson says, "I can't tell you how many letters I've received over the years protesting my use of Mother Teresa as an example of holy living. Many even suggest that I visit her so I can give her the plan of salvation. To me this reaction is astounding. How could anyone deny this woman's faithful witness" (The Body p87)?
Colson seems to be totally confused. The issue is not whether someone is kind, or religious, or pious, but are they the child of God as a result of receiving the free gift of salvation by faith alone. Mother Teresa, as well as all true Roman Catholics, believe in works righteousness and thus cannot be saved.
Since the writing of The Body, Colson has led the evangelical community toward an ungodly unity with unbelievers through two major events. The first one was the acceptance on his part of the Templeton Prize. The purpose of the $1 million prize is, "To encourage understanding of the benefits of each of the great religions." It was presented in 1993 as part of the Parliament of the World's Religions held in Chicago. The panel that chose Colson included leading Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Jews. Rather than expose the heresies represented at the Parliament, Colson chose to receive their praise and money. Could anyone imagine Elijah accepting a prize from the priests of Baal, or Jesus from the Pharisees?
Even more blatant, for the Christian community, is the signing by leading evangelicals and Catholics the statement entitled "Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium." The idea was born during discussions between Colson and Catholic priest Richard John Neuhaus of NYC, and was signed by prominent evangelicals such as Pat Robertson of CBN; Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ; Os Guinness; Mark Noll of Wheaton College, J.I. Packer and author John White. Several leading Catholics also signed the statement including William Ball, constitutional attorney. The Peoria Journal Star of April 2, 1994 stated:
"They toiledtogether in the vineyards of the movementsagainst abortion and pornography, and now leadingCatholics and evangelicals are asking theirflocks for a remarkable leap of faith: to finallyaccept each other as Christians.... They urged Catholics and evangelicals to increase theirefforts against abortion and pornography and tolobby for value-laden education, but to no longerhold each other at theological arm's length andto stop aggressive proselytism of each other'sflocks. 'As evangelicals and Catholics, we darenot by needless and loveless conflict betweenourselves give aid and comfort to the enemies ofthe cause of Christ,' said the signers.... Thestatement also declares evangelicals and Catholics affirm the central beliefs in theresurrection and divinity of Christ. 'All who accept Christ as Lord and Saviour are brothersand sisters in Christ,' the declaration says....What has brought the two communities to thispoint, some of the signers said, are the experiences of worshiping together in the charismatic movement and working together inpolitical causes such as the anti-abortionmovement."
If this document is to be taken seriously we would have to admit that the Reformation was a mistake (something even Christianity Today is not ready to admit; May 16,1994 p16). In addition, we would immediately remove our missionaries from Catholic countries, such as Spain and Brazil, because we are trying to evangelize those who are already saved. To continue such efforts among Catholics is no more than sheep stealing (according to the signers of the document).
THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD TO ECUMENICALISM
What has brought the evangelical church to the place of such compromise? Why are we willing today to cave in on important doctrines that we would have died for a few decades ago? Although many things could be identified, let us suggest three steps that have led to where we are today:
1) Ecumenical Evangelism: For decades many believers have been willing to compromise essential doctrines for the sake of winning the lost to Christ. The motto has been, "Win the lost at any cost." Ultimately, of course, such concessions lead to a watering down of Biblical teachings in order to accommodate and avoid offending the various groups involved. The Fundamentalist Movement is distinguished from the Evangelical Movement in that the Fundamentalists have refused to unite with liberals and doctrinal deviates in order to evangelize.
2) Ecumenical Social Involvement: Political involvement and strong efforts to change society has not been a part of the evangelical or fundamental church until recently. One of the reasons that many conservative Christians broke from the mainline denominations in the 1930's was to move the church back to its primary task of preaching the gospel and discipling believers. And so, until recently the push to change the political landscape into conformity with Christian beliefs was unknown within the evangelical community. That has all changed. Today it would appear that Christians are more concerned with changing society than calling and preparing people for God's Kingdom. This is a marked change from just a few years ago. If our goal is to change society, then we must have numbers. Since there are not enough doctrinally-correct Christians to make much of a dent in the political world, it is then necessary to unite with others who share our values --whether or not they teach Biblical truth. Hence our dilemma. If we stand fast for doctrinal integrity we are unable to change society due to lack of numbers. If we compromise our beliefs by uniting with those who have similar values but poor theology, we have political clout at the expense of a compromised message.
3) A premium placed on experience rather than truth: In David Wells' book, No Place for Truth, he studies the evangelical community and forcefully demonstrates that, as a whole, Christians are no longer interested in, or motivated by, truth. Following the lead of our society, we cry for "life -- not doctrine." We have forgotten that it is TRUTH that sets us free (Jh 8:32). Life cannot be found apart from doctrine, yet what believers look for in a church today are programs, entertainment, great music and productions -- not sound Biblical teaching. Wells says, "Within the church, strong winds are blowing from a range of religious consumers who look to the churches and ministers to meet their needs -- and who quickly look elsewhere if they feel those needs are not being met. Basically, these consumers are looking for the sort of thing the self movement is offering; they just want it in evangelical dress. A genuinely biblical and God-centered ministry is almost certain to collide head-on with the self-absorption and anthropocentric focus that are now normative in so many evangelical churches " (p256).
Since truth is no longer the dominate force behind the evangelical church something has had to take its place. That something is experience and pragmatism. People are interested in feeling good, and in "what works." If they have to compromise their beliefs in order to have a good experience, or in order to accomplish some desirable goal, then so be it. The end result -- a church that stands for nothing and falls for anything.
COMPROMISES NECESSARY FOR MODERN DAY ECUMENICALISM
Many evangelicals who are pushing for ecumenical unity say that those who resist unity are making a big deal out of nothing. They assure us that while there may be a need for concession in minor areas of doctrine, compromise on the essentials is not necessary. As a matter of fact Colson says, "Everyone who believes in the orthodox truths about Jesus Christ -- in short, every Christian -- is a fundamentalist" (The Body p186). Colson based this statement on a book published in the early part of this century called, The Fundamentals. This book was a collection of writings by some of the finest pastors, theologians and Christian leaders of the day. It was written to define the nonnegotiables of the faith -- those things to which all true believers must adhere. The nonnegotiables that Colson mentions are: the infallibility of Scripture; the deity of Christ; the Virgin Birth and miracles of Christ; Christ's substitutionary death; and Christ's physical resurrection and eventual return. However, he fails to mention several other fundamentals that are just as essential to the faith but are denied by the RCC. As a matter of fact, chapter 49 of The Fundamentals, is entitled, "Is Romanism Christianity?" The chapter goes on to prove that the RCC is not true to the faith; in fact, that it preaches "another gospel" (Gal 1:6-9). This view is based on several false teachings of the RCC including those mentioned on page 16 of this study.
Can the truefollowers of Christ close their eyes to suchheresies?
Are doctrines such as salvation by faith alone, a negotiable? Are we to pretend that those who teach that we must work our way to heaven are truly born again? Are we to work side-by-side with those who teach another gospel, especially in light of the fact that Paul pronounced a curse on those who did in his day (Gal 1:8,9)?
It is interesting to note that at the very time evangelical Christians are being called upon to be more tolerant toward Catholics, the Catholics are becoming more vocal against Fundamentalists. An article found in the Peoria Journal Star during the month of March, 1994 reports the following:
"A newVatican document on how to interpret the Biblecondemns the fundamentalist approach as distorting, dangerous and possibly leading toracism.... 'Without saying as much in so manywords, fundamentalism actually invites people toa kind of intellectual suicide, said the document, written by the Pontifical BiblicalCommission.... The commission's authors savedtheir harshest language for Christian fundamentalist denominations, which have beenposing a growing challenge to the church, particularly in Latin America.... 'The fundamentalish approach is dangerous, for it isattractive to people who look to the Bible forready answers to the problems of life."
A BIBLICAL RESPONSE TO THE CALL FOR ECUMENICALISM
How should the child of God, seeking to honor the Lord through obedience to His Word, respond to the ecumenical movement? Rather than tolerance and compromise with those who teach false doctrines, the Word instructs us to take four actions:
REFUTE: Titus 1:9 says that the elders of the church must be able, not only to exhort in sound doctrine, but to refute those who do not teach sound doctrine. Far from ignoring doctrinal error, we are to oppose it. All faulty doctrine leads to faulty living. Faulty living, in turn, ultimately disgraces God. Therefore, it is important that we know and live Biblical truth.
EXPOSE: Eph 5:11is speaking in the context of living out our theology. Vv9,10 says, "For the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth, trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord." So we are to know the truth of God's word, and live it, if we desire to please Him. Then in 5:11 Paul says, "And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them." We expose both false doctrine and false living by bringing it into the light of God's Word (v13). We are called to examine the teachings of those around us in the light of Scripture. That which is sound doctrine should be embraced. That which is not in agreement with the Bible is not only to be rejected, but to be exposed in order that others are not deceived by it.
REMOVE: The local church is given the authority and the mandate to remove from the fellowship those who will not turn from heresy (I Tim 1:20; II Tim 2:18; Titus 3:10). It is disobedience to this principle that has led the church astray doctrinally.
SEPARATE: The N.T. is abundantly clear that when apostates cannot be removed from the fellowship, that the believer must then remove himself from their presence (II Cor 6:14-18; Rom 16:17; Acts 19:8,9). To fellowship with (or support in any way), those who teach major doctrinal error is to participate in their evil deeds (II John 10,11). Rather than minimize the importance of the truths found in God's Word, believers are called to become grounded in sound doctrine in order that they might mature in the faith (II Tim 3:13-4:2; I Tim 4:1-6; Eph 4:11-16).