Consider the Pastor, People, Purpose, and Progress of the Local Church

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“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. 40And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. 41Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. 42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” ~Acts 2:38-47

On October 31, 1517, a young German priest by the name of Martin Luther nailed a document to a church door in the town of Wittenberg. Little did Luther realize that his document containing ninety-five points of concern would revolutionize the world. In accordance with His providence, God has been pleased to use various documents to move the hearts and minds of men for His glory, and their good. A particular type of document the Lord has been pleased to use is called a ‘confession of faith’. Historically, God’s people have seen great value in drafting confessions of faith.

A doctrinal confession helps to crystallize what the Bible teaches on a particular issue.

A doctrinal confession helps to unite people of like mind and faith, especially in times of persecution.

A doctrinal confession provides a ready summary of those things most surely believed.

A doctrinal confession serves as a catechism for teaching others.

A doctrinal confession enables people to remember the essentials of the faith.

Of course, no confession of faith is to replace the Bible or to usurp its authority. If there is a controversy that arises between confessions and the Scriptures, the Word of God is to have the final say, for it is the Bible that is inspired not the confessions of faith.

With these points in mind, we go to the year 1644 in London, England. In 1644, seven Baptist churches sent representatives to a meeting for the expressed purpose of drafting a confession of faith that would distinguish newly organized Calvinistic Baptists from the Arminian Baptists and the Anabaptists. The result of the meeting was positive in that a definite set of core beliefs was set forth.

Two years later in 1646 the Presbyterians drafted the Westminster Confession which was so well written that another dissenting group called the Congregationalists adopted virtually the same articles of faith in their Savoy Confession of 1658. In like manner, the Baptist were so impressed with the Westminster Confession that, in 1677, they called for a second meeting of their own to redraft their earlier document, and conform it to the Westminster language.

By doing this, a signal was sent to the Church of England that an essential unity exited among the dissenting churches within the realm.

As non-conformists, the Baptist, the Presbyterians, and the Congregationalist were all subject to the same religious persecution from the state, and the Church of England. From 1661-65, during the reign of King Charles II, four laws were enacted to suppress Non-conformists, and other sects, dissenting from the established Church of England. These were difficult days for the Church.

By the grace of God, King William of Orange and his wife, Queen Mary II assumed England’s throne in 1689. England was saved from Catholicism, and returned to Protestantism. On May 24th of that year the Act of Toleration was passed. The Baptist, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and other dissenting groups from the Church of England were allowed freedom of worship.

Within two months, seven London pastors called for a general meeting of Baptists from England and Wales. Representatives from 127 congregations met in London from September 3rd to the 12th. They adopted afresh the Confession of 1677. It is an irony of history that the document we call The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 is really The Baptist Confession of 1677.

What is important to understand, is that the Confession we subscribe to is the most popular confession of Calvinistic Baptists in the English-speaking world. It has helped to guide and instruct millions of Christians around the world.

Charles H. Spurgeon found this document so important that in the second year of his ministry at the New Park Street Chapel he had the work reprinted and distributed to his people. Spurgeon wrote,

“I have thought it right to reprint in a cheap form this excellent list of doctrines, which were subscribed to by the Baptist Ministers in the year 1689. We need a banner because of the truth; it may be that this small volume may aid the cause of the glorious gospel by testifying plainly what are its leading doctrines … May the Lord soon restore unto Zion a pure language, and may her watchmen see eye to eye.” He addressed these remarks to “all the Household of Faith, who rejoice in the glorious doctrines of Free Grace.”

There is one section in the Confession that is of particular interest to worship, and that is Chapter 26, which teaches about The Church.

Fifteen specific truths are set forth that would be profitable to review.

A distinction is made between the Church visible, and the church invisible. While men can add to the visible church through various means, only God can add to the true church of Christ. “Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47).

The invisible church is expressed visibly in various structures and denominations: Baptist, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists.

Every assembly will have error, but overall God will have a people for Himself. “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). “His name shall endure forever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed” (Psalms 72:17).

“Persecution has not crushed the church; power has not beaten it back; time has not abated its forces; and what is most wonderful of all, the abuses of its friends have not shaken its stability.”  Horace Bushnell (1802-1876) God will have a people for Himself. Christ is the head of the Church, not man, and certainly not the Pope. 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” (Col. 1:18).

The elect of God has been called out of the world in order to unite in local assemblies for discipline, exhortation, edification, and expression of spiritual gifts. All of these concepts are found in Matthew 18:15-20. “Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. 18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Faithful identification with a local assembly is not optional, but essential as an expression of gospel obedience. “To all that be in Rome” (Rom. 1:7). “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:1).

Identification with a local assembly of Christians is to be voluntary for a part of self is being “given up” to God and to others. A part of self is given up for God desires His people to need one another.

“We ask the leaf, “Are you complete in yourself?” and the leaf answers, “No, my life is in the branches.” We ask the branch, and the branch answers, “No, my life is in the trunk.” We ask the trunk, and it answers, “No, my life is in the root.” We ask the root, and it answers, “No, my life is in the trunk and the branches and the leaves. Keep the branches stripped of leaves and I shall die.” So, it is with the great tree of being. Nothing is completely and merely individual. Edward Everett (1794-1865)

Spiritual authority and power is fully invested in the local assembly.

There is to be a recognizable church leadership of pastor and deacons. A Russian proverb says, “Without a shepherd, sheep are not a flock.”

Spiritual leaders are to be set aside for ministry after fasting, prayer, and laying on of hands.

The pastor has a duty to the people to preach and pray; the people have a responsibility to free the pastor’s time from secular work. Edward Jeffrey has said something about a delicate matter—the pastor’s salary. People expect the clergy to have the grace of a swan, the friendliness of a sparrow, the strength of an eagle and the night hours of an owl—and some people expect such a bird to live on the food of a canary.

Within the assembly all of the spiritual gifts are to be looked for, cultivated, and utilized. “God never intended His church to be a refrigerator in which to preserve perishable piety. He intended it to be an incubator in which to hatch converts.” F. Lincicome

Every believer has a responsibility to join themselves to a particular local assembly, to accept the disciplines and government of that assembly, and to do what is possible to promote its welfare—which is not always easy to do.

A husband and his wife arose one Sunday morning and the wife dressed for church. It was just about time for the service when she noticed her husband hadn’t moved a finger toward getting dressed. Perplexed, she asked, “Why aren’t you getting dressed for church?” He said, “Cause I don’t want to go. She asked, “Do you have any reasons?” He said, “Yes, I have three good reasons. First, the church building is cold. Second, no one likes me. And third, I just don’t want to go.

The wife replied, wisely, “Well, honey, I have three reasons why you should go. First, the church building can be warmed up. Second, there are a few people there who do like you. And third, you’re the pastor! So, get dressed!”

Every believer has a responsibility to not be easily offended by others within the assembly. When disagreements take place disputes are to be settled according to gospel terms. “In the church of God two opposite dangers are to be recognized and avoided: they are a cold heart and a hot head.”  A. W. Tozer (1897-1963)

Fellowship with other assemblies is to be sought. “We do not find in the gospel, that Christ has provided for the uniformity of churches, but only for their unity.” Roger Williams

The local assembly is to remain autonomous, though there is wisdom in seeking counsel from others.

Here then are specific points to consider about the church, its pastor and people, its purpose and progress. The grand objective is to see the church as the most glorious institution on earth. Timothy Dwight (1752-1817) did, and wrote

“I love thy church, O God!
Her walls before thee stand,
Dear as the apple of thine eye,
And graven on thy hand.”

When the Church is once more seen to be glorious because of its Founder, its purpose, and its place in the plan of God then there will be a more personal commitment to it. Perhaps the day will come when every person will be able to say the following.

“My Church is the place where
the Word of God is preached,
the power of God is felt,
the Spirit of God is manifested,
the love of God is revealed,
and the Unity of God is perceived.

My Church brings comfort to my soul,
elicits spiritual devotion for my Lord,
sustains my wavering faith,
excites my religious affections,
and prepares me for heaven.

I have united with my Church in solemn covenant,
pledging myself to attend its services,
to pray for its members,
to give to its support,
and to obey its by-laws.

My Church will find a place of priority in my affections.
It will maintain a high place in my mind,
and a principal place in my scheduled activities
because I realize
its essential unity, peace and progress
concerns my life in this
world and that which is to come.

I owe my Church a measure of
my zeal,
my benevolence,
and my prayers.

I realize that when
I needlessly neglect its services,
I injure its good name,
lessen its spiritual power,
discourage other members,
and subdue spiritual growth in my own soul.

By covenant agreement
I solemnly promise,
in the sight of God and men,
to advance the interests of my Church

by faithful attendance,
by reading the Holy Bible,
by never neglecting its ordinances,
by contributing to its support,
by meeting with fellow members,
by watching over their welfare,
and by joining with them in prayer
and praise and service.

This day I commit myself afresh
before God my Father,
Christ my Redeemer,
and the Holy Spirit my Sanctifier
to do what is possible to
promote the kingdom of heaven.”

The Prayer of Jabez

“And Jabez was more honourable than his brethren: and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, Because I bare him with sorrow. And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying,

Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed,
and enlarge my coast,
and that thine hand might be with me,
and that thou wouldest keep me from evil,
that it may not grieve me!

And God granted him that which he requested.”

~1 Chronicles 4:9-10

1 Comment

  1. Great post we have here! We need to return to those good old confessions, being confessional, as it were! Enjoyed the historical nuances too, gives context.

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