Tag Archives: ecclesiology

4 Quick Thoughts on Marriage

One of the things I absolutely love about my seminary is that they truly value the marriages of their students. As a result they have a couple’s banquet every year where the married students are served dinner by the professors, child care is provided, and a miniature sermon about marriage is presented. This year one of my professors, Carl Laney, gave four reasons why marriage should be held in honor and I thought they were so great I’d share them here.

  1. God ordained it. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24).” Marriage is the first institution created by God. Any other time God has made a covenant with man it has been regarded as something sacred and holy. In the same way, marriage should be viewed as a sacred institution that was created by God.
  2. Jesus blessed it. Jesus blessed marriage by turning water to wine at a wedding feast (John 2:1-12). He did this because marriage is something that deserves to be celebrated. Furthermore, Jesus said that there is a supernatural element to marriage. God joins the husband and wife, and we ought not separate what God has joined (Matthew 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-9)
  3. Children illustrate it. From the beginning, the biblical view of children is that they are a blessing. When a child is born, they have DNA from both the mother and the father. This is an illustration of the bond that occurs at marriage. Children are a vivid reminder of that unity that God creates when he weds a man and a woman.
  4. Death alone ends it. Marriage is intended as a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman in the sight of God and their family. The Bible says that wives are bound to their husbands as long as he is alive (Romans 7:2; 1 Corinthians 7:39). It also says that men are to love their lives to the point of dying for her (Ephesians 5:25-30). This lifelong devotion is meant to serve as a picture of Christ’s devotion to the Church.

There you have it! May your marriage be blessed and may it be a blessing.

What is the purpose of Spiritual Gifts?

I think there are two purposes that Scripture reveals for Spiritual Gifts. In fact, these two reasons complement one another because it’s unlikely you’ll be able to have one without the other for very long. They are:

  1. Building
  2. Uniting

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, (Ephesians 4:11, 12)

Building up the Body is listed as the reason that Christ has empowered some people to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. Another way you could translate this verse would be to say that he equipped them “for the purpose of building up the Body of Christ.” In other words, we weren’t given spiritual gifts to use them on ourselves. In fact, that idea is completely out of the question. For example, imagine a soldier whose been trained, conditioned, equipped with all his gear. The times comes for him to deploy, but instead of going to war he takes all his training and equipment and goes on a hunting trip. It’s the same way for anyone who has been granted a spiritual gift and merely uses it for their own benefit. Not only are they being selfish, they are squandering their gift on themselves when it should be used for building up the entire Church. Instead of benefitting ourselves, our spiritual gifts should be benefitting dozens–if not hundreds–of people. I should add here that when I say “building up the body” I mean both outward and upward. We should be building out–which is why there are apostles, prophets, and evangelists–and we should be building up–which is why there are shepherds and teachers. But, beware of creating an atmosphere of competition to see who has the superior spiritual gifts. This leads to division, which is antithetical to the second purpose of spiritual gifts.

…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ… (Ephesians 4:13)

When each part is working properly, per Ephesians 4:16, the body will “build itself up in love.” The spiritual gifts are meant to build the body up, and part of being built up is being unified. Jesus said that no group which is divided against itself can stand (Mark 3:24, Matthew 12:25). This applies to the Church. If spiritual gifts are not being used properly–for example, if they are being used out of pride, selfishness, etc.–then they will inevitably be used by the Destroyer to slowly and subtly dissolve unity. Think about it, when Paul wrote that “when each part is working properly [it] makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:16)” he must have surely known the opposite was true. When each part is not working properly it prevents the body from growing, which means that it will destroy itself in hatred.

So what does this mean? First, it means we are called to use our spiritual gifts. Part of “working properly” is working; in other words, if you’re not serving you are not properly using your spiritual gifts, period. Second, everyone has spiritual gifts. Not all spiritual gifts are equally flashy, but all people are given spiritual gifts which means that all people are necessary if we are to reach full maturity. Finally, as we use our spiritual gifts, we must constantly check our hearts and our motives. If we are using our spiritual gifts for anything beyond building and uniting the body, we must do the hard work of checking our hearts and repenting where necessary. So I encourage you to examine where God has given you both gifts and passion. Be open to serving in several different capacities before you decide you’ve found out exactly where you fit in the Body. And remember to do all things in a manner that builds and unites the Church.

the holy catholic Church

(Note: After receiving some feedback and engaging in a couple of conversations, which prompted me to prayer and meditation, I have decided to revise this entry. I’ve made this decision for a couple of reasons. First, I think my original entry did a bad job of explaining “the Church” so I’ve taken some more time to expound on what that idea means. Second, I think it did a good job of alienating people. With text, things like tone and body language are stripped from a message and it can be easily misunderstood as too harsh. These two factors combined to create a message that I believe was largely misunderstood. Finally, and most important, this is something that I take very seriously (James 3:1) and I hope this revised message will give glory to God and encourage His Church.)

(This is part fourteen of a multi-entry blog series exploring the Apostles’ Creed.)

I think this may be the most widely misunderstood line of the Apostles’ Creed. What does it mean to say…

“I believe in the holy catholic church.”

How many sermons have you heard on ecclesiology? Yeah, zero, right? That’s because many Christians, pastors included, take for granted the doctrine of the Church. Did you notice that I just used a big-C when I said Church? That’s the focus of this entry:  the difference between a church and the Church.

The best definition I’ve heard for “the Church” comes from Wayne Grudem‘s Systematic Theology. He defines “the Church” as “the community of all true believers for all time.” A church is a building; the Church is an eternal group of believers. A church is built out of brick and mortar by the hands of men; the Church is an eternal community built by God. Therefore, there is the visible church (a building) and the invisible church (an eternal community); a church and the Church. To miss the distinction here is to miss the entire point of this entry and what this line is all about. Also, when we talk about the “holy catholic church,” the word catholic simply means “universal”. So in this line, we’re talking about the community of all true believers for all time; this is the universal church (however, this is not universalism).

That’s why, in this line, we also use the word “holy” to describe the Church; the Church is holy because it is not a work of man, but a work of God. So what about the horrible things that have happened in the name of God over the centuries? For example, what about the Crusades? In the Crusades their mantra was Deus vult or “God wills it!” Here’s the interesting part about using any of those historical examples; everyone knows on some level that the Crusades go against what the Bible teaches, right? We all know God’s desire for “the Church” does not match the actions of the Crusaders. At some level, we all have an idea of how the Church should look and how it does look. And we all know the Crusades are irreconcilable to Scripture, right? (And on a more personal level, we all have an idea of how our own personal conduct should look and how it does look.) This goes back to the visible church versus the invisible Church; which one was responsible for the Crusades? Were the Crusades a semi-political cause that was the fruit of widespread corruption within a visible, man-made institution? Or were the Crusades the will of God as His will was done on earth through His invisible Church? One consistent pattern throughout all Scriptures and all human history is that, when people get involved, things go wrong. Because of the taint of sin and because all of creation, including us, is subject to physical and moral decay (Romans 8:21) we need the Church. The need visible churches to fulfill their mission as the invisible Church. And, within the pews and seats of those churches, we need Christians to live their lives in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27). We live in a world that desperately needs “the Church.”

This brings us to a largely forgotten and likely unappealing Latin phrase: extra Ecclesiam nulla salus! In English, this means “outside the Church there is no salvation.” Notice it’s “the Church”? That’s what this phrase refers to! So why do I bring that up? Hang in there with me!

Have you ever met someone who says something like…
“Oh yeah, I believe in God just not organized religion!”
“I don’t need to go to some building for God.”
“I don’t trust institutions.”
“I have my own little church-like experience without going to a building.”

Well, if you hear someone say that, they’re revealing a deep ignorance of or apathy towards the Scripture. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but I’m just calling a spade a spade! Being connected to the Church, not the building but the true community of believers, is a fruit of being connected to God. People who say they connect with God by themselves are just making excuses for not being involved in a community of Christians; it’s that simple. How can you love God if you don’t love God’s people? First John 4:21 says that if we love God we will love our brother. Who is our brother? Our brother is our brother in Christ. Thus, if we do not love our brother in Christ, we prove do not love Christ (1 John 4:20).

For example, in John 10:14-15 Jesus calls himself the “good shepherd.” What does He lay His life down for? The flock! Sheep travel in flocks. In Acts 2:42, the newly baptized Christians devoted themselves to “the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” They were devoted to the fellowship, not to themselves. True Christianity is not a solitary practice but something done within the context of community. In 1 Peter 2:4, the author describes the members of that church as “living stones” that are being built into “a spiritual house.” One brick by itself does not have a purpose; bricks are made to be used together. Peter continues by describing that church (and subsequently all Christians) as “a chose race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people…” (1 Pet 2:9). The context here is very clearly a community; not individual people who never get together. Proverbs 12:17 says that “iron sharpens iron;” it doesn’t say that iron sharpens itself. We need one another to encourage and build one another up, to challenge one another, and to call one another out when we need to repent.

People who share common interests will gather. People who love to run run will form running clubs and will participate in races; people who love to swim will join swimming teams and attend swim meets; people who love to shoot guns (and want to protect the 2nd Amendment) will join the NRA and go to a shooting range; and perhaps the most notorious, people who believe in a political cause will gather together with hopes of enacting some type of change. (Before you argue that people can run, swim, or shoot guns by themselves, please take a minute to consider if you can baptize yourself or take Communion by yourself.) At the very least, people who share common interests will find one another and become friends; unless, of course, your single greatest passion is being alone! People who are passionately in love with God, desire to learn more about His Word, and hope to do His will in this dark, broken world will gather. They will feel compelled to find one another. It’s inevitable! If you love God, then you will want to participate in God’s mission. Guess where that is? The Church! God’s agent in this world is the Church. Thus, if you love God you will want to be involved in God’s Church so as to be part of God’s work in this world. Simple, right?

Let’s look elsewhere at Hebrews 10:24-25, shall we? How can we claim to be connected to the Head (Christ) if we are not connected to the Body (the Church)? Martin Luther, the catalyst of the Reformation, said this about the Church:

Therefore he who would find Christ must first find the Church. How should we know where Christ and his faith were, if we did not know where his believers are? And he who would know anything of Christ must not trust himself nor build a bridge to heaven by his own reason; but he must go to the Church, attend and ask her. Now the Church is not wood and stone, but the company of believing people; one must hold to them, and see how they believe, live and teach; they surely have Christ in their midst. For outside of the Christian church there is no truth, no Christ, no salvation.

The idea of a personal connection to God outside of the context of a community is, in the grand scheme of things, a very new concept. While we are individually connected to God through Christ, we become part of a body; no man is an island. It’s the result of post-Enlightenment thinking and its resultant individualism; two ideas that permeate Western thinking and the mentality of Americans. Be careful of those who claim to be connected to God, but not connected to God’s Church.

However, for those who are members of God’s Body, there is a beautiful connection, which is what we’ll be looking at in the next line of the Apostles’ Creed, so don’t touch that dial!