Category Archives: Michael Horton
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.