RPM, Volume 16, Number 23, June 1 to June 7, 2014

Covenant Theology

The Doctrine of the Church
An Overview
The Character of the Church

Sermon Number Twenty-three

By Jim Bordwine, Th.D.


In the last sermon, we began a study on the doctrine of the Church. I mentioned that this is a subject that is fundamental to the Christian faith. The doctrine of the Church touches every aspect of our experience as Christians; it is related to issues like the worship of God, the administration and meaning of the sacraments, salvation, sanctification, evangelism, marriage, family life, vocation, politics, economics, and sociology. I stated that even history itself has no meaning and cannot be rightly interpreted apart from the doctrine of the Church because history is the record of the Church's construction and development following the Creator's promise in Gen. 3:15.

I am considering the doctrine of the Church under three points: 1) The Foundation of the Church; 2) The Character of the Church; and 3) The Mission of the Church. I want briefly to review point number one.

01. The Foundation of the Church

When I use the term, "Foundation of the Church," I am, of course, referring to a truth that serves as the theological ground upon which the Church rests. We looked at Matt. 16 where Jesus teaches the disciples that His identity as the Christ, the Son of the living God, would serve as the doctrinal foundation for the Church He would build through them.

From this passage, I concluded that Christology, that is, the doctrine of and about Jesus Christ, would be the organizing principle for His Church. The Church would be built upon a Christological foundation and Her doctrine would be, therefore, Christo-centric. Everything about the Church would bear the marks of Christ; She would be a fascinating and beautiful "elaboration" of Peter's confession; the Church would be the embodiment of the truth represented in Peter's words.

This brings us to the second point.

02. The Character of the Church

When I speak of the character of the Church, I am referring to those qualities by which this institution is distinguished. What traits are to be observed when we look at the Body of Christ? What marks do we see that belong uniquely and unmistakably to the Church built and maintained by the Savior? Beginning this morning, there are three characteristics that I want to explore: the sanctity or holiness of the Church, the catholicity of the Church, and the apostolicity of the Church.

Please turn to the book of 1 Peter. In the second chapter of this epistle, beginning in v. 4, we read these words:

4 And coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected by men, but choice and precious in the sight of God, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For this is contained in Scripture: "Behold I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, and he who believer in Him shall not be disappointed." 7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe. But for those who disbelieve, "The stone which the builders rejected, this became the very corner stone," 8 and, "A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense"; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Peter has come a long way. He is no longer the impulsive, speak first and think later kind of man he was when he joined the Savior's band of apostles. Peter has been through experiences that have sharpened his understanding of the plan of redemption and the work of Christ. In this context, Peter has studied the Scriptures and wishes to teach a wonderfully encouraging truth to his readers.

Making use of a prophecy from Psa. 118, Peter describes Jesus Christ as a "living stone" that would serve as the foundation for a special creation of God, which is, of course, the Church (v. 4). The idea here is not unlike what we discovered in our study of Matt. 16. The teaching of Jesus Christ and teaching about Him serve as the theological bedrock for the Church.

The apostle tells us a number of things about this Church. For instance, he says that this Institution will be composed of "living stones," by which he means believers; the Church of Jesus Christ is a spiritual entity, or "spiritual house," which is designed to please God through Jesus Christ (v. 5). This spiritual house is the gathering place of a "holy priesthood."

This latter description of the Church surely means that the Church, this "spiritual house," functions as a priest in the world, standing between God and fallen man, as it were, preaching the gospel of Her Head and Savior while, at the same time, offering to God the sacrifices of praise, thanksgiving, and service.

While the corner stone, which is Jesus Christ, serves to provide stability and permanence for the Church, that same stone is "a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense" for all those who reject the gospel preached by the Church (vv. 6-8). Christology is salvation for some and doom for others; it is that which unites and preserves the Church, but that which scatters and destroys those outside the Church. Notice that the apostle leaves no room for neutrality. You are either a "living stone" and are added to the spiritual house being constructed by the Savior, or you take offense at the Savior and face the destiny of an unbeliever.

If I may pause here for just a few seconds, I want to say that I think there is far too little preaching about the fate of unbelievers these days. The majority of sermons you hear or read coming from evangelical Christianity have little or nothing to say about the judgment of God that awaits those who have not made peace through His Son. The judgment of God, however, is just as sure as the blessings of God, which we come to know and cherish in the faith.

While I'm not suggesting that we turn our Sunday morning meetings into evangelistic services, which would leave believers starving, spiritually speaking, I am saying that in our contact with the world, be it individually or corporately, we need to be more faithful in declaring the whole truth. We cannot just be quick to tell someone about the good news without also telling them why the gospel is good news—because without it, you will perish forever.

Returning to his description of this "spiritual house," Peter adds: "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession…" (v. 9) This passage makes it clear that the Church is set apart from the world to serve God and be used as He sees fit. Peter refers to the Church as a "holy nation"; that is, the Church is "sanctified" or "set apart" for a particular use. Moreover, this description of the Church bears ethical implications. The Church of Jesus Christ, which rests upon the foundation of Christology, which is concerned with the business of proclaiming a Christo-centric message, is morally pure in the eyes of God.

This follows, of course, from the nature of the atonement. In Jesus Christ, those who become part of this spiritual house have had their sin pardoned and the righteousness of Christ imputed to them. They are, as we learned earlier in this sermon series when we studied the doctrine of sanctification, declared to be holy due to their union with Christ. Holiness is necessitated and accomplished by the nature of redemption. The Church must be a holy institution because She is composed of holy individuals; She must be ethically pure because all those "living stones" that go into Her composition are cleansed by the blood of the Savior. The remainder of the passage emphasizes this holiness or sanctity of the Church.

You can see, I trust, why Scripture speaks so strongly against those who trouble the Church. The Church is a purified body composed of those for whom Christ has paid the ultimate sacrifice. They are at peace and have a clear mandate to serve God for the rest of their lives. When someone tries to disrupt this peace or tear apart the bonds of believer to believer, that is a most serious transgression. It is up to us to be diligent so that we do not let ourselves be drawn into a web of criticism and half-truths. As soon as recognize that someone is attempting to sow seeds of doubt and discord, we should turn away from that person immediately.

The concept of holiness or sanctity that Peter expounds upon in this passage is indicated by the apostle Paul when he addresses the people of Christ in his many epistles. He routinely refers to them as "saints": Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:2. These examples come from the opening salutations of some of Paul's epistles and they are but a few of the more than three dozen times the apostle refers to Christians as "saints." The word translated "saints" in all of these passages is the Greek word hagios, which refers to the quality of things that can be brought near or into God's presence.

This term applies to that which is separated, that which is sacred, that which is dedicated and consecrated to God. This is the label given to all believers; Paul even used it when referring to the Corinthians, a group that had more than a few moral problems. This label is appropriate for all believers, however, due to the nature of redemption, as I stated earlier. Believers have been set apart by virtue of their union with Christ; they have been sanctified and are ethically pure in the eyes of God. When we observe the Church, therefore, we see a Body that bears this characteristic of separation or holiness, this characteristic of being uniquely established and maintained for the glory of God.

The second characteristic of the Church that I want to explore is Her catholicity. The word "catholicity" means "universality" or "universal acceptance." In the Apostles' Creed, we confess: "I believe in… the holy catholic Church." Following the teaching of Scripture, this ancient creed maintains the existence of one true Church of Jesus Christ, a Church that crosses all geographical and chronological borders. The Church of Christ is "catholic" in the sense that all true believers are found in Her. While there may be numerous organizational manifestations of the Church, there is, spiritually and doctrinally speaking, only one Church of Jesus Christ.

This means, practically speaking, that a Bible study is not the Church. The participants may be members of the Church, but the group by itself is not the Church. The same is to be said for any grouping or gathering of believers. Those groups and gatherings consist of Christians, but they are not the Church. The Church is all those who profess the Biblical religion and who are organized according to the government appointed in Scripture.

Getting back to our point about the catholicity of Church, I'd like to point to a very familiar passage for Scriptural proof, Gen. 17:

1 Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you, And I will multiply you exceedingly." And Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, "As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, And you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, But your name shall be Abraham; For I will make you the father of a multitude of nations. And I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you."

God promises that Abraham would be the father of a multitude too numerous to count. As we learned in our study of the covenant of grace, Paul's comments on this promise in Gal. 3 show that what Abraham heard was the gospel. Based upon his own example of faith in the promises of God, Abraham would become the father of all those who would accept and believe what God promised concerning redemption.

In a sense, then, Abraham is the patriarch of the Church of Jesus Christ; he is the one to whom and through whom God gave the most extensive explanation of the plan of redemption prior to the coming of the Messiah. In the verses just read, the extent of the blessing that was to come through Abraham includes all the nations of the earth; there is, therefore, a universal aspect to God's promise to Abraham.

God does not promise one Church per nation, but one people gathered from among the many nations of the world. The promises made to Abraham would be realized as people from all parts of the earth heard and responded to the gospel. Because of the spiritual nature of our connection in the Church, geographical boundaries are of no importance; they would not prevent the unification of the one people of Abraham. Even chronological barriers would not prevent the unification of the one people of Abraham; this is particularly evident when we consider God's promise to be the God of our descendants after us.

The gospel that would be preached in one nation would be preached in another; the gospel that would be preached in one time period would be preached in another; the gospel that is embraced by parents would be taught to and embraced by their children. Again, all of this testifies to the universal or catholic character of the Church.

While this passage teaches the catholicity of the Church, the most obvious indicator that God was, indeed, gathering one people from among the many nations of the earth, however, occurred on the Day of Pentecost as recorded in the book of Acts. When the disciples began speaking in foreign tongues, those gathered around them were amazed. Luke recorded the scene:

Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were bewildered, because they were each one hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and marveled, saying, "Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs-- we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God." (2:5-11)

When Peter raised his voice to offer an explanation, he said: "Men of Judea, and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give heed to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: 'And it shall be in the last days,' God says, 'That I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all mankind…'" (vv. 14-17) Let me point out that the disciples already had been instructed concerning God's intentions. Just before His ascension, Jesus said to them: "…You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

Clearly the Church of Jesus Christ was intended to transcend national and temporal borders. Peter cites a prophecy that he believed predicted this very event in Jerusalem. God's pouring out of His Spirit on all mankind, as Joel described, was happening at this time. One of the key truths to be observed, therefore, is the fact that God no longer would confine knowledge of Himself and knowledge of His plan of redemption to the nation of Israel.

Beginning on this day, the gospel of salvation would be proclaimed to all creatures under heaven and men would be gathered into Christ's kingdom from across the globe. This is what Abraham heard and it is the emphasis for gospel preaching in the New Testament.

It is important that I emphasize, once again, that the gospel that would bring the one people together from the many nations would be the same gospel in every case. The one people being gathered from the many nations would be united by doctrine; Christology, as I stated in the first point, that is, doctrine about Christ and doctrine from Christ, would be that which bound them together. And nothing else would or could create this bond.

There is one more passage that we should consider before leaving this matter of the catholicity of the Church. In Rev. 5, we read:

1 And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. 2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?" 3 And no one in heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth, was able to open the book, or to look into it. 4 And I began to weep greatly, because no one was found worthy to open the book, or to look into it; 5 and one of the elders said to me, "Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals." 6 And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. 7 And He came, and He took it out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 8 And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10 And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth."

I really love reading this chapter in the Revelation. It is thrilling as it brings before us an image of the completed work of Christ. John witnessed a scene in which what God had decreed for mankind is represented as a "book written inside and on the back." One who could preside over the nations was needed to open this book and, thus, set in motion what God had determined should come to pass. Who had the authority to oversee the execution of God's decree for mankind?

As the apostle observed, no one came forward to take up the task of governing the nations according to the decree of God. Then John was comforted and told that "the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals." (v. 5) The One referred to is, of course, Jesus Christ, the Savior. He appears in this scene as a bloody Lamb, indicating that His work of atonement entitled Him to assume jurisdiction over all created powers and to begin His reign as King of kings and Lord of lords.

What is most important for our present purpose is the song of celebration that is sung when the Lamb steps forward to receive the book:

Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth. (vv. 9, 10)

In His work of atonement, Jesus Christ "purchased" men from all the nations of the earth and He made them one kingdom and this one kingdom, one of priests, as Peter described, presently reigns with the resurrected Savior even as they live out their days on the earth. The citizens of Christ's kingdom may be separated from one another geographically and they may be separated from one another temporally, but they are one people forming one kingdom and they are presided over by their common Lord and Savior.

This is the beauty and genius of the Church. It exists everywhere and in every period. Our welfare does not depend on a leader who is subject to overthrow or death. Our leader lives eternally and has conquered death. Every foe in this world that has come against the kingdom of Christ has eventually died and his ambitions and hatred for righteousness have died with him. Jesus Christ continues to reign victoriously and He never dies.

The Roman Emperor Nero instigated the first systematic persecution against the Church in the middle of the first century. To draw attention away from his own crimes, Nero stirred up hatred for the Christians. In that day, simply for being a Christian, men and women were slaughtered. Systematic, house to house murders, were common; crucifixion was another frequently used means of eliminating believers. One of the most gruesome tactics involved the wrapping of Christians in animal hides so that wild dogs would tear them apart in a public arena. At the end of the day, the bodies of those Christians were wrapped in clothes and set on fire to provide light for the evening's festivities.

But where is Nero now? What happened to his wicked intentions? Nero is dead and his hatred for the Church died with him. The Church, however, has grown in numbers and strength. And this is the same story to be told time and time again throughout history. Kings, military leaders, local authorities, and enraged individuals have all sought to destroy the Church. But the Church marches on, while all Her enemies have fallen.

Although I've mentioned this previously, I must emphasize that the catholicity of the Church is reflected in Her singular gospel, which declares "There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all." (Eph. 4:4-6) The Church can be one and She can be universal because Her doctrine is one; the Church can be one and She can be universal because all members of the Church have a common Savior, have believed a common gospel, and declare a common doctrine. The Body of Christ is, as John describes it in the Revelation, a magnificent gathering of people from every place and every time under one holy Head.

In this study of the character of the Church, we have covered the holiness of the Church and the catholicity of the Church. A third and final quality of the Church that I want to mention is Her apostolicity. By this term, I mean that the Church of Jesus Christ, doctrinally speaking, is the repository for the teaching of the apostles who, upon the commission of Jesus Christ, founded the Church. In this regard, we can speak of the Church as "apostolic." While we would deny that there is apostolic succession in terms of persons, we would affirm apostolic succession in terms of doctrine.

The apostles were appointed by Christ to take the gospel that He had given to them, establish His Church, and then expound upon that gospel for the edification of the Church. This exposition of the gospel is what we find in the New Testament epistles. The apostolicity of the Church, therefore, is Her possession of and adherence to the teaching of Christ's holy apostles. Wherever the true Church of Jesus Christ's exists, She will be distinguished by the manifestation of apostolic doctrine; Her organization and Her teaching will be that of the apostles.

Biblically, we find the teaching on the apostolicity of the Church in Christ's High Priestly Prayer, as recorded in John 17. Speaking of His disciples, Christ says:

12 "While I was with them, I was keeping them in Thy name which Thou hast given Me; and I guarded them, and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I come to Thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 I have given them Thy word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth. 18 As Thou didst send Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. 20 I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me."

Jesus says that He had kept the disciples and had given them His Father's Word (vv. 12-14). He asks the Father to continue keeping them now that His death was approaching (v. 15); He prays for the sanctification of the disciples, as well (v. 17). Jesus states that the disciples were being sent out into the world to represent Him even as He had been sent from the Father to represent God (v. 18). Then notice what the Lord says: "I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word." (v. 20)

How would others come to know Christ? How would others come to salvation? Jesus indicates that the disciples, that is, the apostles, would teach others how to know Him and, therefore, how to come to salvation. Christ establishes a vital link between Himself and the salvation that He brought to the world and that very world that He came to save. That vital link between the two is the apostles. Without the apostles, without their teaching, the world could not know the Savior and could not, therefore, be restored in redemption.

This passage, all by itself, makes essential the apostolicity of the Church. If the Church is not apostolic in doctrine, then She cannot know Christ and She cannot have the gospel. Jesus appointed the apostles as the primary teachers in the Church. They would convey His words to the Church and they would expound upon His words for the Church. The Institution that Jesus promised to establish in Matt. 16 is apostolic by its very nature; the Church of Christ can only be apostolic in Her doctrine because this is the way God ordained the founding and development of the Church. No other source of interpretation and teaching was authorized by God.

When Paul explains how the Ephesians had come to be counted among the people of God, he says that they are "fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets…" (2:20) Paul refers to the apostles and New Testament prophets as the "foundation" of the Church. He is referring, of course, to their teaching. We saw under point number one that Paul identifies the foundation of the Church as Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 3:11). Therefore, he can only mean that the teaching of the apostles and prophets was Christological in nature. It had to be Christological in nature for him to refer to their teaching as the foundation of the Church.

In a unique way, then, the apostles served a Christ's representatives; they spoke for Him with His blessing and with His authority during the formative years of the Church. Throughout history, therefore, the true Church of Christ has identified Herself and has been identifiable by Her commitment to apostolic doctrine.


For our application, I want to revisit the three characteristics of the Church of Christ that I have emphasized. As we think again of each of the qualities by which the Church is distinguished, I briefly will point out a few of their practical implications. The characteristics, once again, are sanctify, or holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity.

Related to the first characteristic, which is sanctity or holiness of the Church, there is one leading implication. You will recall that the term "sanctity" refers to that characteristic of the Church, which results from Her being set apart unto God for His praise and service. The implication that I have in mind, then, has to do with the Church's interest in Her holiness. For the Church to maintain and advance Her holiness, She must practice discipline. Church discipline is nothing more than the mechanism that the Body of Christ uses to ensure that She remains faithful to Her Head and Savior. Church discipline is required because the Church has yet to be perfected; it is required because, even though not yet perfected, the duty of holiness remains.

Cooperate discipline, therefore, is a necessity for the Church of Christ. Far too often, of course, the phrase "church discipline" conjures up all kinds of distasteful images in our minds. Our culture has trained us to bristle against expressions of authority and, on top of that, some have come to believe that discipline in the Church is contrary to the gospel. The truth is, discipline is mandated by the gospel. If the Church is to be sanctified, then some method of maintaining and perfecting Her holiness must be in place. When discipline is rightly practiced in the Church, the good name of Christ is protected, the members of the Body are protected, and erring brethren are reclaimed.

Related to corporate discipline is, of course, personal discipline. The individual members of a local church must take the responsibility to pursue holiness seriously; they make up the church and therefore they have an obligation to holy living before the Lord. As we live out our days in the church, we should see an increasing concern in ourselves for this goal of holiness. This, in turn, enhances the overall sanctity of the church body. Corporate and individual holiness are both demanded by the fact that we have been set apart by Christ as His own kingdom. Clearly, therefore, the church's level of sanctification is going to be a direct reflection of the sanctification of all those individuals who make up the congregation.

What about the catholicity of the Church? As we have seen, there is only one true Church of Christ throughout history. This fact is the ground for Her catholicity, or universal relevance. There are two leading implications of this characteristic. First, there is the implication that we should recognize and appreciate the diversity of the Body of Christ. This is, I believe, a common problem throughout the Church in all ages. We have difficulty accepting those who do not share some of our basic "components," if you will. It is admittedly difficult for us to conceive of the Church of Christ in all Her diverse glory. That passage in Rev. 5 supplies the view of the Church that is accurate, but one with which we struggle.

The truth remains, however, that the Church of Christ includes people from every tongue and every nation. This is one of the most beautiful aspects of the Church. You can get a glimpse of this characteristic in any local congregation where you will find people with various ethnic origins and backgrounds. The problem is that in most local congregations, all the members speak the same language and, in general, share a common culture. The Church of Christ is much broader and much richer than what can be observed in any local congregation, however. We need to guard against the idea that the whole Body of Christ looks like us and talks like us; the plan of redemption is much more glorious than that.

There are congregations in which we would be out of place, especially those in foreign nations. But this doesn't nullify the fact that the Body of Christ incorporates people from all nations. We should, therefore, work to overcome the tendency to be exclusive—and again, I don't believe this is done deliberately, at least not in most churches.

The second implication of the catholicity of the Church is that we should pray and labor for the unity that is ours in Christ. I've often said that unity is not something we must achieve; it is something we must demonstrate. I mean that we do have unity in Christ; unity is not a characteristic that must be created. It is, however, a characteristic that should be shown. And that is where we have a problem. Living as one, with all of our differing opinions, is a challenge to be sure.

And I realize that it is hard to imagine that the Church of Jesus Christ is one as we look around at the numerous denominations all claiming to be Christian. We need to remember that the catholicity of the Church transcends denominational borders and ecclesiastical governments. Christians of all denominations should desire that we give expression to our unity in Christ. We ought to guard with diligence those distinctives that are Biblical and cannot, therefore, be compromised, but, at the same time, we ought to seek eagerly for opportunities for genuine fellowship and common service.

This may be a topic that you believe is beyond your ability to influence. After all, I'm talking about a quality that should be seen in the whole Church and you are just one member of a local congregation. You may think, therefore, that there is not much you can do to promote the catholicity of the Church, but that's not true. Catholicity begins with the individual in the local congregation.

You can promote the catholicity of the Church by deliberately reaching out to others in this body. You can help demonstrate this wonderful characteristic supplied by Christ by taking a little time to get to know someone here that you don't know that well. Small things like these, small things that only require a small effort, bear amazing fruit in time. It's hard to think badly of someone you know well. If you know them well, then you will be slow to believe a bad or critical report you've received about your friend. And that is what we are talking about—friendship.

I want you to think of one of your best friends right now. With that person in mind, how would you react if someone came along and said: "That person is so arrogant and self-centered." You know that person and, in your relationship, you have not witnessed arrogance and self-centeredness. But if you don't know that person, then you might believe what you've just been told because you have no context in which to judge its merit. We are guaranteeing misunderstandings and worse when we don't make the effort to develop a friendship with our fellow-members. Friendship is highly regarded in Scripture and this is one of the reasons why.

Finally, what are the implications of the apostolicity of the Church? By apostolicity we mean that the Church is committed to the doctrine of the apostles. If this is true, then, to begin with, we must affirm a commitment to Scripture. This may sound like an unnecessary affirmation, but, given the climate of our day, this kind of declaration needs to be made and made often.

More and more people are searching for doctrinal stability and they aren't finding it in many local churches because many local churches are relatively unconcerned with this important characteristic of the Church of Christ. We actually have come to the point where a church that emphasizes doctrine may be ridiculed within evangelicalism as being out of touch or inwardly-focused. That charge could not be further from the truth. A doctrinally sound congregation is the only one that has anything of spiritual value to offer to the world. If we are more concerned with fitting in than standing out, the world doesn't need us.

We can listen to criticism and be timid about our emphasis or we can keep in mind that the nature of the Church is such that She is a doctrinal institution. There is no way to separate the Church from doctrine. Consequently, local congregations must pay close attention to what they teach; they must be diligent in equipping their members through the Scripture.

A second implication of the Church's apostolicity is that we should be grateful to God for our Protestant heritage. The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century was in the name of the apostolicity of the Church. The Reformers sought to purify the beliefs and practices of the Church according to the teaching of the apostles of Christ. We ought not to be embarrassed by what those men did; in fact, we ought to be thankful that God raised them up and we should do our part to preserve the apostolicity of the Church by being quick to defend our Protestant distinctives.

I hope that this sermon has been both encouraging and challenging. The encouragement should come from the existence of the amazing institution known as the Church of Jesus Christ. It is marvelous and will remain on earth until the Savior returns. The message of the Church will never be extinguished and there will always be Christians somewhere lifting up the name of Christ in praise of God. Those truths are encouraging.

The challenge, on the other hand, should come from your recognition of the key part you play in making the Church spiritually healthy and able to influence the world around us. You have the challenge of practicing holiness and of doing your best to bring out the unity of this body. If these duties go unfulfilled, then we will not be what we could be or what Christ has equipped us to be.

Give thanks to God is you are a member of this glorious Body. He appointed you to eternal life before you existed. He has called you, He protects and provides for you, and He will receive you into heaven one day when Christ has finished bringing together men from every tongue and nation in the world.

If you've heard what I've been saying, but it sounds strange or even unimportant to you, you are in need of the rebirth. That is what the gospel is about. The message of the Church is that sinners like us—and that includes all of us—have been condemned to eternal death because of our offenses against a holy God. But this message also says that Christ has provided a way of escape for sinners like us. We may claim Him as our Savior. His payment for sin may become ours. We can become a child of God rather than a child of the devil. It all depends on your response to God's summons. Will you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved?


Hymn for Communion


For some time, I have been concerned about this part of our worship service. Normally, when we sit down to a meal, it is with family or friends or at least with people we don't despise. This is supposed to be a practice that demonstrates the spiritual truth that we are one in Christ and are equally dependent upon Him for salvation. But this arrangement is not always seen in this congregation, especially in recent months.

Can you imagine the offense caused if Christ invited you to a meal and as you take your seat, you notice that He has also invited a number of other guests. As you survey their faces, you notice a couple of people that you despise or a couple of people that you believe have hurt you and deliberately continue to hurt you. Your naturally tendency would be to think: "Well, what is he doing here?" or "How did she get in the door?" But, like you, that person was invited by the Host. And like you, that person's place at this table was secured by the same Redeemer.

Like you, that person's sins have been forgiven and that person is seeking to walk rightly before the Lord. That person stumbles and, in fact, sometimes causes significant pain for others or significant disruption to the body. What you might miss as you concentrate on one or two people is that everyone at this table is unworthy, but they have been received by Christ even in their unworthy state—and that goes for all of us, including you.

Christ has accepted us all and has provided for all of us garments suitable for this occasion. He is going to treat us all the same—He's going to love each of us and intercede for each of us and come to the aid of each of us. He will have open ears and arms for each of us—there will be no favoritism shown. Christ has forgiven all of His guests. He is well aware of our sins, but, as stated, accepts us because He Himself paid for those sins. Now, when we come to His Table, we are not afraid of being denied entrance. We know we all belong here, by grace and grace alone.

Before this meal starts, however, suppose the Savior stood up and, one by one, began to reveal the thoughts of our hearts. He goes around the table, from one saved sinner to the next declaring what we think about Him and what we think about one another. At some point, He stops because He has discovered a guest who truly loves Him and desires with their whole heart to serve Him and who is truly grateful for salvation; but that same person is holding a grudge against another guest. And that person thinks very harshly about another guest. And that person, the Lord reveals, thinks they belong at this meal, but not that other person who has caused them such problems.

What would you make of such a scene? How would Jesus respond to such a gathering? Would it be a mockery of His mercy and goodness to sit there and enjoy His bounty while holding on to those troubling thoughts about your brother or sister? (And remember, this is a family meal.). Would you not feel ashamed because you have despised one for whom your Savior died? Would you not be humiliated to have your thoughts made known to all the other guests?

There you sit, an undeserving saved sinner among a room full of undeserving saved sinners and you are harboring ill will toward some of them. How inappropriate would that be? Would Jesus not be justified if He said to you: "Even if that person has sinned against you, you are to forgive as you have been forgiven. I forgave your transgressions against Me; how can you not forgive the transgressions of your brother or sister?"

I tell this imaginary story simply to emphasize that we are in need of repentance and confession. There are too many broken relationships in this congregation and too few efforts to repair them. We are in danger of insulting the Spirit of grace, if we haven't already. Who are we to come to this Table where we are reminded of what was done for us and which declares to us our blessed position before God and, at the same time, continue to count and catalog the wrongs done to us by a brother or sister?

We must give our attention to the holiness of this body, and to the catholicity of this body, and to the apostolicity of this body. Our holiness forbids us from holding sins against one another; we simply are not allowed to do that. Our holiness demands that we forgive as we have been forgiven. And the catholicity of this body requires us to strive for unity. We are not permitted to leave a breach unattended. We are not allowed to dwell on the wrongs done against us. We are not allowed to rehearse those incidents over and over again. On the contrary, we must pursue unity so that we show in our day to day interactions the truth of our common faith and common Savior.

And the apostolicity of this body calls for obedience to all Biblical commands. We are to obey the exhortation of considering others—even our least likeable brother or sister—as more important than ourselves. We are to obey the command that we are to seek peace, as far as it is in our power to do so. And we are to obey the admonition that we are not to think more highly of ourselves than is proper.

As I said, we need repentance and confession of sin in this body. And now is the time to begin. I say, "begin" because these actions involve others, not just Christ alone. Here you should confess your sin and express your repentance for whatever part you are playing in our unrest, but you also must go that the brother or sister you have in mind and make things right.

We should not go on, week after week, with the level of backbiting, gossip, criticism, and stubbornness that presently exists. Do your part, right now as we pause for silent prayer before coming to the Lord's Table.

Silent prayer

As we come to the Lord's Table, we have portrayed for us the essential truths that I've spoken of in this sermon. This sacrament reminds us of the sanctity of the Church as we think upon the death of Christ for our sins; He died to purify a people for God. So this sacrament should challenge us regarding our walks with Christ. This sacrament reminds us of the catholicity of the Church as we all partake of the one bread and wine; like no other time in our week, our unity in Christ is portrayed when we receive these elements. And this sacrament reminds us of the apostolicity of the Church as we are pointed back to our foundation, which is Christ.

Matthew says:

And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom."

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