30 Minute Radio Sermon - WAVG Radio 1450 AM
Clarksville church of Christ
April 1, 2001
Speaker: Richie Thetford
"The Government and Mission of the Lord's Church"
When Jesus said, "I will build My church, .." (Matthew 16:18) His right of ownership was fully established. With the rights of ownership come also the right to structure the church according to His own good pleasure. But there are literally thousands of religious institutions, all claiming some touch with Christ, yet with such a wide variety of governmental forms that hardly any of them are alike. There is only one religious institution in this world that is governmentally identical to Christ's original church. Which is it? Today we will see if we can locate it. In addition, How can a church today expect people to hear what they say in a world where there are problems like hunger, ignorance, poverty, prejudice, and hatred?" This question is asked with repeated frequency as sincere people seek to learn the role churches should play in our world today. Please stay tuned as we examine the Government and Mission of the Lord's Church.
Hello, this is Richie Thetford, evangelist for the Clarksville church of Christ welcoming you to another presentation of"What Is Truth?"The Clarksville church of Christ presents this program every Sunday at this same time. Our purpose is to teach the truth and nothing but the truth. We always urge you who listen to let us know if you find something taught on this program that is not true in accordance with God's word. We want to make sure that we are right in our teaching and you will be doing us a favor if you would let us know if you find anything that is contrary to the gospel of Christ. You are very warmly invited to visit our services today. At 9:30 A.M. we have Bible classes for all ages followed by our morning worship assembly at 10:30 A.M. Then this evening at 6 P.M. we will again worship congregationally. We also have Bible classes for all ages each Wednesday at 7:30 P.M. Our building is located at the corner of Hale Road and Hwy 131 in Clarksville. We would certainly be delighted to have you come and visit us today.
There is a large variety of church government represented in both protestant and catholic religious circles. Some religious groups favor the conventional form of government, where local churches within a specific denominational framework voluntarily band together in a central organization called the convention. Through their representatives, they formulate policies for that particular denominational body, as well as perform work as an aggregate body. Other denominational organizations favor a form of church government called a Synod. A Synod is a council or an assembly of local churches, which forms a particular denomination. Some large denominational bodies are made up of a group of synods. Then there is a form of church government which may be called "monarchial." This form of church government is patterned after a monarchy with one man at the top as supreme ruler, various cabinets and consulates under him. This is the form of church government represented by Roman Catholicism. Some of the religious cults pattern a form of church government after our own representative form of democracy. Mormonism, for example, is organized from a president at the top, who is also called prophet and seer, with a group of so-called "apostles" under him, who govern a large number of "stakes" and "wards." Do any of these kinds of government even resemble the kind Jesus gave His church? If so, which one is it?
Looking for the kind of government Jesus authorized in His church can only be successful when we consult His last will and Testament. Let us begin with His own words. "All authority, both in heaven and on earth, has been given to me" (This is Matthew 28:18). Jesus received total authority from the Father and gave His chosen apostles the world wide commission to preach His gospel, based on that authority. If Jesus has all authority, none is left for any other governing agency or body. "All authority, both in heaven and on earth, has been given to me. You go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus left no authority for anyone other than Himself. He delegated only responsibility; He never delegated His authority to anyone.
Upon His authority, His disciples were allowed to make disciples through preaching the gospel. Jesus invited the entire world to "come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me, for My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:27-30). This great invitation invites people to learn of Him. There is but one way to learn of Christ today and that is through the word He revealed to the world through the men who were inspired to write it down. Jesus promised His apostles,"When the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all the truth"(John 16:13). When the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles they received, not part of the truth, but all of the truth. There is no truth that pertains to one's relationship to God, through Christ, not revealed to the apostles. Listen to our Savior. To His disciples, He said, "He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me" (Matthew 10:40). Through His specially chosen apostles, He alone governs His church.
Since Christ rules His church through His apostles, and since they no longer live on earth, how can He govern? Jesus anticipated this precise matter. He said to the apostles, "Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matthew 19:28). Regeneration means generating something again. God generated (created) the world in the beginning. That was a physical creation of heaven and earth. Jesus spoke of another generation, in which He would sit on His throne as supreme monarch, and the apostles would sit on twelve thrones to judge "the twelve tribes of Israel." Judges do not rule -- they serve under the ruler, Jesus Christ, as His ambassadors. And should we stumble at the fact that they no longer live among us, therefore cannot judge, we should remember that Jesus still rules, while no longer alive in the flesh. This regeneration is the New Testament age, when Jesus promised His church would come into existence. That is the age in which we live and will continue to live until time ends. Thus, Jesus is now reigning over God's people and the apostles, through their inspired words, continue to be judges. The fact that Jesus called His church "the twelve tribes of Israel" is in accord with other statements in the New Testament. The short book of James was written to "the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad" (James 1:1). The church was made up in part of converted Jews, who still retained their tribal identities, but not their former religious views and practices. In fact, the whole church, both Jew and Gentile, were referred to figuratively as "the Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16).
The apostles, through preaching Christ's gospel, made disciples in every nation on earth. They did this through preaching His gospel. Then, they taught them to "observe all that" Christ commanded the apostles. As time came for them to "go the way of all flesh," they followed Christ's authority and set up a system by which the church would be governed after their departure. First, they made sure Christ's gospel would continue to be preached. Paul wrote a young evangelist,"And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Timothy 2:2). Anticipating the claim that even angels might bring another revelation, he wrote to the churches of Galatia, "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8). So sure was this made, that the anathema of God rests even on an angel who would preach anything other than what the apostles, under Christ's authority, preached in the first century.
Those who were made disciples by apostolic preaching were formed into local groups called "churches of Christ." Paul used this very expression in Romans 16:16 where he said, "The churches of Christ salute you." Churches here refers to a number of local churches, all following the apostolic order. Within each of these local groups, by Christ's authority, the apostles ordained men who were called "elders"to superintend the group. A very plain statement of this is found in Acts 14. Luke tells us of Paul's travels which led him to the Asian cities of Lystra, Derbe, and Iconium. After having made many disciples in each city, he and Barnabas returned and, verse 23 reads: "So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed." These elders are also called bishops, pastors, or shepherds. There is no distinction between elders, pastors or bishops. And that is the only body of men who have oversight of anything in the church today, by Christ's authority. Men who were called "deacons," or "ministers" were also chosen to serve with and under the elders of each local church (Philippians 1:1).
Each of these local groups were organized autonomously and independently of each other. Peter wrote to elders, "Shepherd (or pastor) the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by constraint but willingly, not for dishonest gain, but eagerly" (1 Peter 5:2). The oversight of a single group of elders was (and always should be) limited to the flock of God which is among them. It may interest you to know that the first step away from the Christ's authority in the government of His church occurred when a group of elders assumed the oversight of several other local churches. This gradually led to what historians call "a monarchial form of church government."
The government of Christ's church may be summarized as follows.
1) Christ is the supreme governor of His church.
2) His government is administered through the apostolic office of making disciples through preaching His gospel.
3) The apostles, under Christ's authority, organized the church into local fellowships and appointed certain men to function as elders or overseers.
4) These elders were limited in their oversight to the congregation where they served.
5) And that is it -- there is no more government to Christ's church.
That is why the convention, the synod, the monarchial, or even the democratic forms of church government must be rejected. The only church that duplicates the kind of government Christ gave His church in the first century, is the one that has elders in every church, and which operates completely under apostolic teaching, and limits their oversight to their own congregation.
As we continue our study this morning, now let's discuss the mission of the Lord's church. Dr. Donald A. McGavran, Dean of the Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California and Dr. Win Arn, Executive Director and President of the Institute for American Church Growth, collaborated on a book entitled, How To Grow A Church. It was published by Regal Books in 1979. In response to how a church can get people to listen to the gospel where there are so many social problems that seem to be more important than salvation from sin. Dr. McGavran made an interesting point when he said, "Furthermore, we must never forget that in evangelism we're not telling people how good we are. We preach Christ, not ourselves. If we start preaching ourselves, we're done for; I don't care how good we are." (page 167).
The church Jesus promised to build is truly one body, a spiritual body, and is sent into the world on a very pointed spiritual mission -- saving the lost through preaching the word. Churches that lose sight of that one goal Christ has commissioned become side tracked into many unauthorized social, political, domestic, and economic endeavors. There is only one way for any group of people who think they have even a relative relationship to the church Jesus built to avoid drifting away into the never, never land of secularism in religion. By maintaining an unwavering loyalty to what Jesus said, to His authority, and to His principles of right and wrong, can any of us remain unspotted from the world we are here to save from sin.
Let us all be warned. A church today cannot be the same one Jesus built if it does not actively engage in the fulfillment of the mission He sent His church to accomplish. If Jesus sent the church into the world to remove poverty, ignorance, hunger, hatred, and the like, then those who do not energetically engage in that cannot be His church. On the other hand, if Jesus sent His church into this world to make men know the joy and way of salvation from sin, those who focus their chief concern on eradication of poverty and ignorance rather than proclaiming the gospel of Christ, cannot be His church today. So, it is extremely important to get a clear view of that mission. And, it is equally important to be unbiased about it -- may I add also to not allow our feelings and emotions to override our respect for the Christ who built His church.
Understanding the mission Christ gave His church is made easier by considering the New Testament teaching about its basic nature. The nature of His church manifests the work it is to accomplish. The nature of Christ's church may be known first by the different descriptions inspired men gave to it. Consider this:
It is called His Body. Paul wrote, "And He is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence" (Colossians 1:18). As the head, Christ directs the body in all of its activities. But also, the body under the control of its head is but an extension of the head. From a purely physiological point of view, the church, as Christ's body, is but an extension of Christ Himself. Going into the world as His body means that those who make up the church engage in the work Jesus came to accomplish.
No mere man can accomplish the one work Jesus accomplished in His atonement for man's sin. However, Jesus said, "For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). Seeking the lost, bringing them into the fold of safety, through salvation was His primary concern. It should be the primary concern of His body, the church, in every generation.
Second, the church is called a temple. Peter wrote, "You also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5). As a spiritual house, the church is concerned in the first place with spiritual work, saving souls through gospel preaching. The offering up of the sacrifices in the church today is not from the smoke of animal sacrifices, nor is it from the so-called "fellowship halls" or kitchens that so many churches have. Someone once wrote, "If the Lord allows time to continue, one wonders if archaeologists of the future will not wonder what sort of gods this generation served, as they dig up the remains of our steam kitchens." The sacrifices we offer to God consist of our own service as His disciples, preserving and perpetuating His own personal mission, preaching the saving message of truth to the lost.
It is interesting that in the next verse, Peter said, "Because I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious and he that believeth on Him shall not be put to shame." The temple of God, the church Jesus built, rests on the solid footing of His deity. And the word "because" is significant. Because the church is His spiritual temple, to engage in the offering up of spiritual services, He has laid the foundation here on earth. From that solid rock of truth, the church of Christ must continually be active and energetic in spreading nothing but the truth of the gospel of Christ.
The church Jesus promised to build is called "the pillar and ground of the truth." Paul wrote, "But if I tarry long, that you may know how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:16). The truth is the one means of spiritual freedom. Jesus said, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free"(John 8:32). Truth is the sanctifying power of God. Jesus prayed,"Sanctify them through Thy truth; Thy word is truth" (John 17:17). Truth is the one path in which the church must walk. John wrote to an individual named Gaius. "Beloved, I pray that in all things thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth. For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and bare witness unto thy truth, even as thou walkest in truth. Greater joy have I none than this to hear of my children walking in truth" (3 John 2-4). Only those who walk in the confines of truth follow Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). To walk in the ways of social reform, political activism, and worldly entertainment, is to abandon the path Jesus blazed for His church to follow.
But how is the work to be done? The church of Christ is to support the preaching of nothing other than the gospel as revealed in the New Testament. Paul said of the Philippians, "Do all things without murmurings and questionings; that ye may become blameless and harmless, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation among whom ye are seen as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life; that I may have whereof to glory in the day of Christ that I did not run in vain neither labor in vain" (Philippians 2:14-16). If the church bogs down with a social emphasis, it will soon engage in bickering and strife. We don't have time for such as that. If every one who claims to believe the Bible, were to restrict both teaching and activity to only what can be found in the Bible, there would not be enough time to be side tracked into unauthorized activities.
Churches of Christ in the first century give us a clear view of how that work is to be done. Churches sent preachers into a field of work to preach. Luke tells us, "And the report concerning them came to the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem; and they sent forth Barnabas as far as Antioch, who when he was come, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and he exhorted them all that with purpose of heart, they would cleave unto the Lord" (Acts 11:22-23). Other times, churches sent financial contributions to preachers. Paul spoke kindly of the Philippians who had sent "once and again to" his necessities (Philippians 45:15-16). Notice that it was to relieve his needs -- not to make him wealthy.
This, then is the essential mission of Christ's church. It is tragic that churches of our generation are moving farther and farther away from this simplicity and fundamentalism into realms where social concerns are more important than going to heaven. Truly, modern day religion is focused on this world rather than that which is to come. But, that is not so of all churches. We of the Clarksville church of Christ are seeking to be only what Christ promised to build. And, we invite your most careful examination of all that we teach, preach, and practice. I hope you have listened this morning with an open mind.
If you have any questions at all about this topic, or if you would like extra study materials on this subject, please contact us. If you would like to receive a transcript or an audio tape of today's lesson or any past lesson that has been presented on "What Is Truth?", you may call or write the Clarksville church of Christ, 407 W. Hwy 131, Clarksville, IN 47129.
This is Richie Thetford, evangelist for the Clarksville church of Christ thanking each of you for listening to this morning's broadcast and invite you to listen again next Sunday morning at 8:30 A.M. for another presentation of "What Is Truth?"