This past Lord’s Day I preached on the body of Christ, what it means to join it and what its life ought to look like. Three related matters didn’t make the cut for inclusion into the sermon, so here they as tasters:
When we place our faith in Christ we are in Him, meaning we share in His benefits. At the moment of justification we are then adopted into His body, the Church. This is what is often referred to as the invisible or holy catholic (universal) Church. How is this tangibly manifested, through the visible local church. We see this throughout the NT, believers engaging in the life of local churches. In Acts 2:42 it even says they devoted themselves to the fellowship. Sadly, too few Christians in these post-modern anti-institution days think we are required to become members of a local Gospel church but here at the Chapel we believe this is how we formally identify with the body of Christ and its mission. A great resource for the membership sceptic, enquirer or already member is Church Membership: How the world knows who belongs to Jesus by Jonathan Leeman. I have a copy and it is worth you getting your own. It is the only book in the 9 Marks series I have read but if the rest are as sound and as helpful as this one I heartily recommend them all. If you can’t pick up the book check out their blog. I am convinced of the necessity of the principle of local church membership. Don’t remain aloof with some abstract I’m a member of the invisible church only club idea—join a church!
No one likes dealing with conflict, which is why most people run from it. That, however, is not the wisdom we find in Scripture. That got David into big trouble when he failed to address Amnon’s sin (2 Sam 13). He went against this proverb from Ecclesiastes 8:11: Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil. Whilst the conflicts we face may not be so severe, the consequences of not dealing with them will be just as painful. So, don’t let the sun go down on your anger (Eph 4:26). If you have an issue with someone in the body, deal with it. This is the process Jesus gave:
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15–17).
In other words try to solve the issue at the lowest common denominator. Don’t escalate it by taking it to the top right away (any good church leader should challenge you to first deal with the situation yourself [unless there is a safety issue]). Remember that one of the fruits of the Spirit is to be “open to reason” (James 3:17). Submit to one another out of reverence to Christ (Eph 5:21) and trust the Lord will be faithful to your attempt to bring peace to the body (Ro 12:18).
*If this involves an Elder, not because they are perfect but because Christ’s image is at stake, the Bible requires two or three witnesses for any such charge (1 Tim 5:19).
One of hardest things a local church will have to do is discipline one of its members. Just as the Lord disciplines us for our benefit so too the church is to discipline members as medicine for their souls (and the local body, purging it of “poison”). Yes this has been abused but double YES it is still biblical. The best example is from the Corinthian church. In 1 Cor 5:2 Paul demands a man be removed from the church for incest. This story happens to have a positive ending for in 2 Cor 2:5–11 it appears he repented and was restored. 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14–15 and also Titus 3:10—to reject a “divisive person”—are also passages to keep in mind on this subject.
Discipline lets the member know they have sinned or erred in doctrine and gives them the opportunity to repent and be welcomed back into fellowship (always the goal). To the watching world discipline says that we do not associate that kind of belief or behaviour with following Jesus and so long as they persist in it we do not recognize them as part of it.
Here again you may want to check out the 9 Marks series, Church Discipline: Medicine for the Body by Jonathan Leeman.
May a robust commitment to what the Scriptures teach on these matters for the body be used to build up healthy churches.
The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,