Category Archives: Local church
I find it interesting to talk to different folks about the relationship between the weekly pulpit ministry and the place of formal women-to-women teaching ministry. Even among complementarian churches, the range of opinion is really quite surprising. As I look around the church it appears to me that at the very least there are six categories of how the relationship between the two ministries is defined. I have numbered them here for no other reason than to make them easy to reference.
Here’s a list of the varying opinions that I see:
- The preaching of the word by called and equipped men is sufficient for women too, therefore while organic women-to-women relationships are important in the church, a more formal women-to-women teaching ministry in the church is not.
- The preaching of the word by called and equipped men is sufficient for women too, therefore the women-to-women ministry in the church is focused on application and domestic excellence, and theological training is of less importance.
- The preaching of the word by called and equipped men is sufficient for women too, yet out of the strong pulpit ministry emerges a necessary women-to-women teaching ministry, it echos the theology of the pulpit, and requires that women also be trained theologically for the teaching task.
- The preaching of the word by called and equipped men on Sundays is vital to women, but it is an entirely different context than women-to-women teaching ministry, therefore the two teaching ministries should not be connected or compared or contrasted but left alone as individual expressions of teaching gifts.
- The preaching of the word by called and equipped men IS NOT entirely sufficient for women, it is weakened by a lack of female perspective, therefore formal women-to-women teaching ministry is a necessary supplement to the preaching, and to do this well women must be trained theologically for these teaching roles.
- The preaching of the word by called and equipped men IS NOT entirely sufficient for women, therefore to reach women, women are needed to preach to the church at least on occasion.
What other categories have I missed? And where would you fit in your understanding of the categories? I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback in the comments to this post.
Although I disagree with a few strands of his overall theology, I appreciate what Ethelbert Stauffer writes about corporate Christian worship in his New Testament Theology [(Macmillan: 1955), 201]:
The worship of the primitive Church at every point took it back to the coming of Christ, the Christ-event. So it is the good news of the gospel that constitutes the real centre of her services of worship. The Word of Jesus Christ must have its course, said Luther, in the German Mass. It must dwell amongst us richly, declared Paul (Col. 3.16; cf. 1.27). So it came about that the prophecies and histories of the OT were read and expounded; the sermon set forth the mighty acts of God in the fulness of time (Acts 13.15 ff.); the correspondence of the apostles, new and old alike, the epistles, which are very much like sermons when read to the congregations, these were read and so, with their message, their thanksgivings and doxologies, helped to bring out the full meaning of Christian worship.
But Christian worship was ‘also’, most certainly, a service to the world. Yet the primitive Church did not serve mankind in solemn rites and cultic practices, in pious instructions and edifying spirituality. Christian worship rooted men out of their self-centred individualism into an extra nos — away from all that is subjective — up to that which is simply objective. This was its service to humanity. It summoned the nations to worship the crucified.
Charles Spurgeon [sermon #2234 (1891)]:
Give yourself to the church. You that are members of the church have not found it perfect, and I hope that you feel almost glad that you have not. If I had never joined a church till I had found one that was perfect, I should never have joined one at all; and the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us.
John Calvin on Psalm 135:13,
The whole world is a theatre for the display of the divine goodness, wisdom, justice, and power, but the Church is the orchestra, as it were—the most conspicuous part of it; and the nearer the approaches are that God makes to us, the more intimate and condescending the communication of his benefits, the more attentively are we called to consider them.
B.B. Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings (P&R, 1970), 1:421–422:
If ever there was one who might justly plead that the common worship of the community had nothing to offer him it was the Lord Jesus Christ. But every Sabbath found him seated in his place among the worshipping people, and there was no act of stated worship which he felt himself entitled to discard.
Even in his most exalted moods, and after his most elevating experiences, he quietly took his place with the rest of God’s people, sharing with them in the common worship of the community. Returning from that great baptismal scene, when the heavens themselves were rent to bear him witness that he was well pleasing to God; from the searching trials of the wilderness, and from that first great tour in Galilee, prosecuted, as we are expressly told, “in the power of the Spirit”; he came back, as the record tells, “to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and” — so proceeds the amazing narrative — “he entered, as his custom was, into the synagogue, on the Sabbath day.”
“As his custom was!”
Jesus Christ made it his habitual practice to be found in his place on the Sabbath day at the stated place of worship to which he belonged. “It is a reminder,” as Sir William Robertson Nicoll well insists, “of the truth which, in our fancied spirituality, we are apt to forget — that the holiest personal life can scarcely afford to dispense with stated forms of devotion, and that the regular public worship of the church, for all its local imperfections and dullness, is a divine provision for sustaining the individual soul.”
“We cannot afford to be wiser than our Lord in this matter. If any one could have pled that his spiritual experience was so lofty that it did no require public worship, if any one might have felt that the consecration and communion of is personal life exempted him from what ordinary mortals needed, it was Jesus. But he made no such plea. Sabbath after Sabbath even he was found in the place of worship, side by side with God’s people, not for the mere sake of setting a good example, but for deeper reasons. Is it reasonable, then, that any of us should think we can safely afford to dispense with the pious custom of regular participation with the common worship of our locality?”
Is it necessary for me to exhort those who would fain be like Christ, to see to it that they are imitators of him in this?
The following was written by D. A. Carson and John Woodbridge in the form of a fictional letter to a young pastor published in the book Letters Along the Way: A Novel of the Christian Life, pages 226–227:
Feed people the Word of God, pray for them, love them, convey the reality of God’s presence to them by word and deed.
What is important at the end of the day is the church–ordinary churches trying to live faithfully in a rapidly changing society. Ordinary churches pastored by ordinary people like you and me, knowing that we cannot do everything, but trying to do what we can and seeking God’s face for His presence and blessing so that His dear Son might be honored and His people strengthened.
The believer’s union with Christ is one of the richest and most precious doctrines. It is a doctrine that can be misunderstood without the proper nuances, but the proper nuances still do not make the doctrine simple or easy to comprehend. It is incomprehensible–Christ is in us, and we are in Him. We strive to better appreciate this marvelous truth, which is what the Valley of Vision calls our “felt union” with Christ.
This union is precious to those of us in the reformed tradition. Puritan Thomas Goodwin said that union with Christ was the ocean into which all other doctrines run. John Murray writes that “union with Christ is the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.” The theme of union with Christ permeates John Calvin’s commentaries and his Institutes. And the description we read of union with Christ in The Marrow of Modern Divinity is comprehensive, breathtaking, and much too long to repost (but you can read it here).
Recently I’ve begun thinking about the ways our individual union with Christ influences how we view our corporate life together. This was originally provoked while reading the works of Thomas Manton where he writes [Works, 10:323]:
Mystical union is the union of believers with Christ the head, and with one another; with Christ the head by faith, and with one another by love. … This union of believers in the same body is often compared with the mystery of the Trinity; and it is elsewhere expressed by one body.
That is both a huge claim and a broad definition of union.
In the context Manton makes very careful and important distinctions between Trinitarian unity and the nature of our union with Christ. Nevertheless, these themes seem to be inseparable (see John 14:20–23; 17:11, 20–23).
Manton then further explains the connection between union with Christ and union with one another.
[The church] is a place full to this purpose, where all believers, in regard of their union with the head, and with one another, are set forth as one body, governed under one head, by one spirit, by which they increase and grow up, till they come to such a kind of unity as is among the divine persons.
But in what ways is the connection between our union with Christ and our corporate life together in the church expressed in the New Testament, if at all? If it is connected, what are the main ramifications?
With those questions, I began my search.
I cannot deal here with every ramification, and the ones I have here identified I cannot address at length. This post intends just to put forward a few themes for further study. I’ll begin with a few foundational points before moving into specific applications:
- Union with Christ means inclusion into His Body (the Church). This really gets at the heart of the main question: Is the theme of the believer’s union with Christ wed to the theme of union into the body of Christ (the Church)? Or are these separate and distinct unions? The simple answer is that it appears the unions are united in passages like 1 Corinthians 10:17 (see also 12:12–13 and Colossians 3:3 and 3:11–15). That is why I think Manton is correct in saying that “mystical union is the union of believers with Christ the head, and with one another.” Our personal union with Christ is the basis of our union into his body, the Church. Okay, so what are the consequences?
- Union with Christ is the foundation of our corporate solidarity and mutual ministry together. This is especially clear in the words of Romans 12:3–5.
- Union with Christ, and corporate solidarity, are displayed in the Lord’s Supper. I don’t think we have a clearer visual picture of our union with Christ than in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (see Matthew 26:26–27 and John 6:41–56). With that in mind, the Lord’s Supper is where we show ourselves to be “one body” as we partake of “one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16–17).
- Baptism is a symbol of our union with Christ and our union with all those who are in Christ. The NDT states, “Baptism signifies union with Christ in his body, the church, for to be ‘in Christ’ is to be one with all who are united to him.” See Galatians 3:26–28 and 1 Corinthians 12:12–13 for this connection.
- Union with Christ is the context of our corporate maturity and growth. We are growing up, growing up together, growing up together “in him.” See Ephesians 4:11–16 along with Colossians 3:12–17 (in light of verses 1–4).
- Union with Christ is the basis of our mutual dependence. We are united to Christ, we are one body. Therefore, we need one another. This unity in Christ showcases the diversity of gifts and our need for one another in 1 Corinthians 12:12–31.
- Union with Christ is the basis for corporate sexual purity. See 1 Corinthians 6:12–20.
- Union with Christ is the basis for church membership. In the context of church membership, John Piper writes: “becoming a Christian means being united to Christ, and union with Christ expresses itself in union with a local body of believers. It seems to us that in the New Testament, to be excluded from the local church was to be excluded from Christ” (see 1 Corinthians 5:1–5). Union with Christ and church membership are seemingly inseparable.
- Union with Christ is the foundation for corporate unity in the local church. Richard Baxter writes: “As their union with Christ the head and principle of their life is principally necessary, so unity among themselves is secondarily necessary, for the conveyance and reception of that life which floweth to all from Christ” (Works, 5:170). Clearly Baxter imagines union with Christ requiring corporate solidarity and it’s not hard to see how he came to this conclusion, given the NT passages above.
- Union with Christ is a basis for racial and social unity in the local church. In his New Testament theology George Eldon Ladd writes, “When we believe in Christ, we are made members of Christ’s body; we are joined to Christ himself and therefore to all others who in union with Christ constitute his body [note that Ladd here merges the personal union/corporate union themes] … Race does not matter; social status does not matter; by Spirit baptism all kinds of people are equally members of the body of Christ” (page 588).
This brief list merely suggests a few of the many ways in which our individual union with Christ provides us with a helpful context for better understanding our life together in the church. But I think that much work could be done on this topic.
As I continue to study the many facets of union with Christ I discover myself simultaneously being led deeper into ecclesiology, nearer to the communion of the saints, and closer to the heart of God’s plan for his Church. So I am not surprised when Michael Horton writes, “The communion of saints, in Calvin’s thinking, has its source in union with Christ” (The Christian Faith, 745). And I’m not surprised when Edmond Clowney writes, “Paul describes the church as the body of Christ because of its union with Christ.” It all makes sense. Our personal union with Christ is the basis for our life together.
The bottom line for me is this: In our union with Christ we discover the groundwork for our corporate life and solidarity. In union with Christ we find the source and purpose for our spiritual gifts, we become less inclined to favoritism and racial division, and we find the basis of our unity with other Christians in our church, our cities, and around the globe. These are just a few ways in which I think further study on our union with Christ will deepen our ecclesiology.
Ultimately, the life and vitality of the church is directly connected to the life of the Savior. Charles Spurgeon perhaps captured this point best in sermon #2653. I’ll close with a quote from it:
Union with Christ is essential to the life of his Church.
Men sometimes lose a, foot, or a leg, or an arm, or an eye, or an ear. It is very remarkable how a man may continue to exist after he has lost several of his limbs, but he cannot live if his head is taken away. Cut that off, and the decapitated body is dead in an instant.
So, brethren and sisters, the Church of God lives because Christ lives, and its life is entirely derived from him. If there were no Christ, there would be no Church; and if there is, anywhere, a body of professors without vital union to Christ, they are not a church. They may have the name of a church, but they are assuredly dead. The Spirit of God flows through Christ into the whole of his true Church, permeating every part of his wonderful mystical body.
Your Local Church, The Kingdom, The Resurrection, The New Creation, and The Restoration of All Things
At one point in his new theology—The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way (Zondervan, 2011)—Michael Horton gathers together several themes including the resurrection of Christ, the kingdom, and the new creation. In the mix, notice where he places the local church (from pages 525–526):
Only on the basis of the resurrection can we say that the righteous and peaceful dominion of humanity has been restored. It certainly cannot be discerned from the daily headlines or from the sate of the church throughout the world. Yet it has been recovered and fulfilled in Christ as our Living Head. By his sanctification we are sanctified, and by his reign the world is assured its participation in the cosmic glory that he has already inherited in his investiture as “King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Ti 6:15) …
Christ is already a king with his kingdom, but for now this realm is visible chiefly in the public ministry of Word, sacrament, and discipline, and also in the fellowship of the saints as they share their spiritual and material gifts in the body of Christ. Thus, in all times and places since Pentecost, the Spirit is opening up worldly reality to the new creation that has dawned with Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Through the waters of baptism, the breaking of bread, the hearing of the Word, the guidance of pastors and elders, the priestly service of deacons, and the witness of all believers to Christ in the world, the powers of the age to come begin to penetrate this fading evil age. The church is not yet identical with the kingdom that Christ will consummate at his return, but it is the down payment on “the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago” (Ac 3:21). As Paul confirms, the resurrection of Christ is not distinct from the resurrection of believers, but the “firstfruits” of the whole harvest (1Co 15:21–26, 45, 49).
I am always impressed when a theologian places the local church within a broader cosmic eschatological framework like this. Such a spectacular vision of how Christ is working in the world through His Church can radically change your attitude and perspective of the local church you attend each Sunday (see also Eph 1:15–23, 3:7–13; Col 1:15–2:7).
Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way (Zondervan, 2011), pages 899–902 [his|mine]:
In Acts, the mission of the church and its actual growth are always attributed to the means of grace, which the so-called marks of the church (preaching, sacrament, and discipline) identify.
The preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments have (or at least should have) such preeminence in the church not because of the desire for clerical dominance over the laity; on the contrary, it is because of the unique and essential service that this ministry provides for the health of the whole body and its mission in the world. So instead of treating the formal ministry and marks of the church as one thing and the mission of the church as another, we should regard the former not only as the source but as in fact the same thing as the latter.
Throughout the book of Acts, the growth of the church—its mission—is identified by the phrase, “And the word of God spread.” The regular gathering of the saints for “the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship,” “the breaking of bread,” and “the prayers” (Ac 2:42) is not treated in Acts merely as an exercise in spiritual togetherness but as itself the sign that the kingdom had arrived in the Spirit. …
The mission of the church is to execute the marks of the church, which are the same as the keys of the kingdom. Where the gospel is being preached, the sacraments are being administered, and the officers are caring for the flock, we may be confident that the mission is being executed, the keys are being exercised, and the attributes of “one holy, catholic, and apostolic church” are being exhibited. Preaching, sacrament, and discipline are singled out in the Great Commission and, as we have seen, in Acts 2:42. If these are missing, marginalized, or obscured, there is no office, no charismatic ministry, and no innovative program that can build and expand Christ’s kingdom. God may use many means, but he has ordained these and has promised to work the greatest signs and wonders through them. …
There is a gathering—an ekklesia—because there is a work of God through preaching and sacrament called the gospel that does its work before we can get around to ours [personal evangelism and societal transformation]. We cannot create the church by our acts of service, missionary zeal, church orders and liturgies, pragmatic programs, authenticity, or romanticizing efforts at generating community. Rather, it is God who creates his own unique community in the world by speaking it into existence and sustaining it in its pilgrimage.
We must therefore resist the false choice between looking after the sheep already gathered through preaching, sacrament, and discipline (the marks) and reaching out to the lost sheep who have yet to hear and believe (the mission). The church is created and sustained by the Spirit through preaching and sacrament, and the church grows numerically—expanding in its mission—by these same means. …
The Word that is preached, taught, sung, and prayed, along with baptism and the Eucharist, not only prepare us for mission; it is itself the missionary event, as visitors are able to hear and see the gospel that it communicates and the communion that it generates. To the extent that the marks define the mission and the mission justifies the marks, the church fulfills its apostolic identity.
John Stott, I Believe in Preaching (1982), page 69:
It is difficult to imagine the world in the year A.D. 2000, by which time versatile micro-processors are likely to be as common as simple calculators are today. We should certainly welcome the fact that the silicon chip will transcend human brain-power, as the machine has transcended human muscle-power. Much less welcome will be the probable reduction of human contact as the new electronic network renders personal relationships ever less necessary. In such a dehumanized society the fellowship of the local church will become increasingly important, whose members meet one another, and talk and listen to one another in person rather than on screen. In this human context of mutual love the speaking and hearing of the Word of God is also likely to become more necessary for the preservation of our humanness, not less.