THE CHURCH AND THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
Defining Key Terms
“Church” and “Discipleship”
What is a church? Is it any group of Christians who gather together? What specifically defines a gathering of Christians as a local church?
a body of baptized believers in covenant with one another
under the leadership of pastors and with the assistance of deacons
preaching of the Word and administration of the ordinances (including discipline)
to make disciples of all nations
What is discipleship? It is learning to follow Jesus throughout your life.
These two concepts—church and discipleship—should always go together in our minds.
A Deficient View of Discipleship
I used to think discipleship = doing personal devotions, maybe meeting one-on-one. Involvement in the church is gravy on top.
Problem among evangelicals: a weak doctrine of the church and a strong emphasis on parachurch organizations (Campus Crusade for Christ, Navigators, Young Life). Tendency to let personal devotion and the parachurch take the place of the church.
What is wrong with this approach?
The Centrality of the Church in God’s Plan of Redemption
Christ announced the coming of the kingdom of God. In his resurrection, the kingdom has come, but not yet in its fullness. In this time of the overlap of the ages, the church (and no other organization) is presented in the NT as an outpost of the kingdom.
Ephesians 3:7-13: The cosmic purpose of Paul’s ministry of the gospel to the Gentiles.
Note the ever-widening circles of revelation:
(1) To Paul—The gospel that had been revealed to him (see v. 3) was entrusted to him so that he could take it to the Gentiles. This call was a gift of grace (vv. 7-8a).
(2) To the Gentiles—Paul preaches to the Gentiles “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (v. 8b).
(3) To all people—Paul’s ministry results in the revelation of the “mystery” (the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ) to all people (v. 9).
(4) To angelic powers—The union of Jews and Gentiles in the church makes known God’s manifold wisdom to “the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (v. 10).
This means that the church is central to God’s plan to make known his wisdom to cosmic powers. How does the church reveal the wisdom of God? It reveals God’s wisdom by demonstrating a foretaste of the union of all things in Christ (Eph. 1:10). The church is the representation of the kingdom in this present age.
Churches are united in the gospel. Parachurch organizations may be united in the gospel, but they always include some other factor as well (interest, age, student status, etc.). By nature, the parachurch cannot
reveal the wisdom of God in the same way that the church can.
This is why Paul was more than happy to suffer for the sake of the church (v. 13). The centrality of the church in God’s plan warrants suffering.
Ephesians 5:25-27: Why did Christ give up his life? Not to save us as isolated individuals
, but as a body: the church. Christ is not a polygamist, marrying millions of individual brides, but has one Bride.
But don’t the references in Ephesians refer to the universal church? Yes, but this does not exclude the local church; the local church is a local manifestation of the universal church.
The Church’s Unique Role in Discipleship
The church is central to God’s plan, and that is why it is uniquely equipped for discipleship of Christ’s people.
I. It is in the church that we come under spiritual authority and discipline (formation and correction):
(1) The authority of pastors: Heb. 13:17: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Christ’s own authority is exercised through the shepherds he gives to his church. You need the regular ministry of the Word that comes through your pastors. Your parachurch leader will not give an account for your soul.
(2) The authority of the whole congregation: Matt. 18:15-20.
Why do we only invite members in good standing with churches to the Lord’s Supper? Because only a member in good standing with a church is under Christ’s appointed means of authority and discipline.
II. It is in the church that we learn how to love, and how to receive love, on the basis of the gospel.
If we only congregate in settings where other Christians are like us, how are we different from unbelievers? The gospel moves us to love people we would otherwise not love: different generations, different nationalities, different interests; people who have failed, people who have sinned, even against us. 1 John 4:20: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” This is why withdrawal from the body is a sign that one is not a true believer, 1 John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”
III. It is through the church that God’s mission to the world will be fulfilled.
To make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19) is
to plant churches, because where there are disciples, there will be a church. Discipleship apart from the church is an oxymoron. In making disciples, Christ commanded us to do two things in particular:
(1) Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit = plant
(2) Teach them to obey everything he has commanded = build up
Aspects of Discipleship at Cornerstone
1. The heart: Sunday morning worship—the
gathering; the Word is preached, the ordinances are administered; the rhythm of our lives is defined by this gathering.
2. The head: Sunday School—discipleship through education that explores topics at a broader level and in a different setting than sermons. This is central to our vision for discipleship/formation.
3. The hands: Small groups and Sunday nights—more opportunities to edify and serve each other directly. These gatherings are key to maintaining the closeness of our community.
4. The feet: Our sending ministry, including the internship. We are committed to Christ’s mission, which we can only fulfill if we are willing to lose for the sake of gaining. Example: We lost Timothy and Haley, but we hope to gain many more brothers and sisters in eternity.
If you are seeking to grow as a disciple, the most important thing you can do is commit yourself to a local church. Let it be the context in which you live your life.