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Heaven on Earth Part II: Membership & Mission
Ephesians 4:11–16 ESV
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
It is only by the saving work of Jesus Christ that you and I have union with God. Our sin and rebellion against God because of us following the desires of the flesh, the desires of the world has caused us to be depraved and to deserve the wrath of God. But in His great mercy He has provided the way for us to be reconciled to Him by sending us the Way, the Truth, and the Life in Christ Jesus. God the Son sent to the earth to live a perfect life and be offered as a sacrifice to God to cover the sins of His people. Raised on the 3rd day, conquering sin and death, that those in Him may follow Him in the same manner. And all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. All who profess this Jesus Christ as Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead will be saved. Repent of your sins and follow Christ to salvation and eternal life and away from eternal death.
Jesus said in Mark 1:15
Mark 1:15 (ESV)
15 “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
This is the gospel, the good news to a lost and dying world. You can be delivered from your sin. You can escape the wrath of God that you deserve and experience His infinite goodness and riches in His mercy for all eternity. You can have a Savior that takes your sin upon Himself, that will pay your debt. You can be reconciled to the Holy God of the universe.
And this is the gospel that we are left to proclaim. Jesus has gone up to Heaven. He was resurrected, stayed a little while longer with His disciples and then ascended into Heaven, and one day He will return in the same way that He left to get His church. And He left the church to the Apostles. Take the gospel to the world. And not only proclaim the gospel and see sinners come to repentance, but teach them about what I have commanded you. Make them disciples as I made you disciples.
And now the Apostles are all gone. And the church is left to us. With the power of the Holy Spirit and submission to the word of God, then we will be a true church.
What is a church? A local church? A great definition for the local church is that it is a group of believers that have covenanted to be together for the purpose of preaching the gospel, portraying the gospel, and protecting the gospel.
But the ways of the world are tempting, and the evil one is a formidable foe against us. For 2,000 years the world has seeped its way into the church, and in many cases taken over the church to where many churches aren’t even recognizable as a church.
After the recent rains, we have seen more ant beds popping up. So many of you, like myself, will go and place bait on these beds. I have walked out the next day to observe and not a single grain of poison is left. They will have taken all of it into the colony and feasted on it and it will destroy them all.
Satan doesn’t desire to turn you as a church member into a satanist. All he wants to do is sprinkle enough bait that our natural flesh is desired to, to rebel against what scripture teaches, bring that into the church and start passing it around to others as good. And it destroys churches that are not protected.
The world tells you this. Grow up, get a good job, make good money, do whatever you want, build for yourself a fun life, retire and enjoy yourself, because you deserve it. In other words, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
But the gospel calls us to something completely different. The gospel calls us to eat the bread of life, drink the cup of suffering with Christ, and then enter into infinite and eternal joy.
And if all that is true, then that means what we do here as the church should be the primary focus of our life. Being the church, the body of Christ, should be front and center in our hearts and minds. Being the church elevates that to the status of utmost importance in our lives, because as the church we are the body and bride of Christ.
Last week we started this sermon series called “Heaven on Earth”, and it’s a study of the church, which is called ecclesiology. And it’s important because the church is the only thing we see in scripture that’s eternal. Every other aspect of our lives is not shown as eternal in scripture. So what this means for us as a people of God is that our identity in Christ and our belonging to the church should not be separated. If you are truly in Christ, that should be exhibited as a witness for others to see by your belonging to the church.
And the reason I can confidently say this is because the entire New Testament, that is Acts through Revelation, is about the church. The main character of Acts to Revelation is the church. It is not about individuals. Certainly individuals play a part in different aspects. The main point of the gospels is that Christ purchases the church with His blood. Then the rest of the New Testament,
• 1 & 2 Corinthians
• 1 & 2 Thessalonians
• 1 & 2 Timothy
• 1 & 2 Peter
• 1,2, & 3 John
the main character of all of those is the church and the working of Christ in her. Yes, there are individual applications, of course there are, because it is individuals that make up the church. But all of these books are about the church, how to plant the church, grow the church, guard the church, lead the church, teach the church, organize the church, edify the church, HOW TO BE THE CHURCH.
How to preach the gospel, portray the gospel, protect the gospel.
This is why the study of the church, ecclesiology, is of the utmost importance to us as believers, as the church.
And our focus on this series is mainly on the local visible church, the church that you belong to, which, for most of you is Calvary. How has God instructed you and I to behave, interact, organize, edify, and love one another? There will naturally be some rollover applications to the invisible universal church, but my goal for this series is to help each of us be a better church member through a better understanding of the word, and to help us be a stronger church because of it.
So last week and this week are foundational teachings. These are the roots of the imagery, if you will. Last week’s main point was this: you as the church have the keys of the kingdom, passed down from Peter and the apostles, when Christ gave them to the apostles and the apostles subsequently passed them onto the church. You have the authority and responsibility to build up the church, to guard the church, and to keep the church pure and holy. This is not solely the job of church leaders, this job falls on all in the church.
There’s a root, the church’s roots digging into its foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Himself as its cornerstone, the roots now dig into that foundation to create this “Heaven on Earth” that we can experience.
This week we will focus on biblical membership and our mission that is incumbent upon that, which is a transitory phase from the roots to the actual church. We’re starting to build up the actual building in this imagery now.
And this thing that we’re doing, the church, is God’s grace upon us, to gather together with other believers, whom we will be with for all eternity, and love one another, in our continued fallen state as we continue to be sanctified, being gracious towards one another, but not shying away from edifying one another in love. This is why we call it Heaven on Earth. It’s not Heaven, but, if done biblically, it should give us a taste of what’s in store for us as the people of God.
Preach the gospel. Portray the gospel. Protect the gospel.
-New Testament Example
Let’s take just a moment to very briefly set the stage for all of scripture. I am about to do in 2 minutes what takes years to truly explain, so forgive me for simplicity. You have heard me say and will continue to hear me say the terms “descriptive and prescriptive” or “implicit and explicit”. What these terms refer to is how scripture teaches us different things. Something that is descriptive or implicit is showing you how it was done. It’s describing it to you. Something that is prescriptive or explicit is telling you or commanding you how to do it. The Old Testament, for example, is very prescriptive and explicit. The ten commandments, the feasts, the rules about cleanliness. Exodus and Leviticus are full of prescriptive and explicit rules that the people of God are to follow. The best example of this is the ten commandments. There is no confusion there. These are very clear and explicit prescriptive commands from God to His people. Follow these commands.
Then we get to the New Testament. Now, don’t misconstrue what I’m saying, the New Testament is a continuation of God’s story from the Old Testament. But it’s very different from the Old Testament in how it teaches God’s people. The New Testament is primarily descriptive and implicit. In other words, what we see from Acts through Revelation is mostly a description of what happened to start the new church, to grow the new church, and how the new church operated.
Let me give you an example- the very birth of the church:
In Acts 2, when Pentecost arrived, all the disciples were together, and suddenly a mighty rushing wind blew in and tongues of fire appeared and landed on each of them and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and they all began to speak different languages that were not their own.
And there were Jews and others from all over the world in Jerusalem at this time for Pentecost. And the disciples began speaking languages that were native to all the people who had come from the far reaches of the world to Jerusalem at that time and they were preaching to them in their native languages. Then Peter preaches and 3,000 people were added to the church that very day. And not just 3,000 people, 3,000 people from all over the world. This is the labor and delivery room of the church.
This is a descriptive event that took place in the church. Does this mean that we should expect the sound of a mighty wind and tongues of fire to come down upon us now for us to speak in tongues? No.
So what we are charged with doing is taking Acts through Revelation, books of the description of the early church, which only covers its first 60 years in existence, and we take all this information and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit in wisdom and prudence, we have to discern what prescriptions or commands do we have today as the church that are derived from these descriptive events of the New Testament church.
That is certainly a Mt. Everest sized task, not completed in one sermon or sermon series, but one that develops a culture in the church where we look back at our ancestors in the early church, we see what they were going through, then we look at the instructions from Christ and the Apostles, and then we use prudence under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to understand how to apply that to us as a church today.
This is why we see in our text we will read shortly that God gives the church prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. They are tasked with helping to guide the church in these matters, to equip the saints. And they are greatly needed, for we see all around us the effect of poor interpretations of scripture in our day and age. Many people take liberty upon themselves to take scriptures out of context and pull a single text that is more descriptive in nature and turn it prescriptive and completely change the meaning of the text into something it doesn’t mean.
As an example for how easy it is to derive completely different meanings from very minor mistakes, I would like to show you this in grammar. We are all familiar with the important use of grammar and punctuation in putting together a communicable thought, and to rightly communicate that to another person. The best example of the ever so important use of correct grammar and punctuation is this, and I’m sure most of you have seen this example.
Let’s go eat, Grandma.
Let’s go eat Grandma.
What we see in this example is that a very simple and minor change of adding a very small mark on the page, in this case a comma, completely changes this situation from that of anticipation of an enjoyable family meal together to that of cannibalism with Grandma finding herself in quite a predicament.
In a similar manner, we must be sharp minded in our thinking, diligent in our study, and most importantly, humble ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit in the interpretation of the New Testament scripture to learn how we are to behave as a church today. For the same Holy Spirit that inspired the scripture is the same Holy Spirit that leads us today. And if we are foolish in our need for Him, then we will be led astray.
So a basic understanding of the church is that how the church began is not going to be how the church is sustained. The church was birthed under the ministry of the Apostles, and many miracles were being performed. And as the apostolic age of the church comes to an end in the 1st century, the church is now established and will be sustained by that which it has been given, the keys to the kingdom, and the instructions we have been given, and then extract out what we can from the descriptions of the New Testament church.
With that introduction to set us on our path, this morning we will be discussing the importance of meaningful membership and our mission. Our goal today is for you to see and understand how vital it is for you to take your church membership seriously and to be intentional with it, and how you are commanded to be on mission with the church to do the will of the Lord, and doing that is very good and healthy for you, as it contributes to your own sanctification as a believer. It is of the utmost importance for you to be deeply rooted in your church, and it is important for the church for you to be deeply rooted in it. And that we as a church covenant together to preach the gospel, portray the gospel, and protect the gospel.
Is membership every directly addressed in the New Testament? Not clearly directly. Can we pull from how all of the New Testament describes the church that each local church is organized in such a manner as to operate that way? Without a doubt, yes. And there are plenty of examples of that that time does not allow us to cover this morning, but we covered a lot of them in our recent Wednesday night study, and if you want to spend time with me on that, I am happy to offer to you a time to go through some of those examples. But pay attention to the words of Paul here in Ephesians 4:11-12
Ephesians 4:11–12 ESV
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
and then in verse 16
Ephesians 4:16 ESV
16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
We see this obvious organization of people in the body of Christ. And we see that they are called saints in verse 12, and they will build up the body of Christ, and that whole body is joined together to build up the body (church) of Christ.
What Paul is describing here can only happen in an organized entity. We see an infrastructure beginning in verse 11. He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers.
Ok, so here’s a group that has specific gifts to be used in the church. And those gifts have a purpose- to equip the saints (the rest of the church). Now, this is not an exhaustive list of those who are gifted. Deacons aren’t mentioned here but they are elsewhere in scripture. But we take this passage along with many others and we see that certain people are gifted to lead the church in shepherding and/or teaching, others to lead the church in serving and that the purpose of that is to equip all the saints (the rest of the church and its members). Now what are they to be equipped for, Paul tells us next “the work of the ministry”. Who is to do the work of the ministry? Does that refer back to the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers? No, that refers back to the saints.
I want you to draw a box around work of the ministry and then an arrow between that and the saints. That in turn builds up the body of Christ.
So what is the work of the ministry that Paul is referring to here?
For this, it is best to go back to the words of Christ Himself in the Great Commission:
Matthew 28:19–20 ESV
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The work of the ministry is that. Go and make disciples and baptize them. This naturally leads us into the marks of meaningful membership.
1.) Making Disciples
This is the first mark of a believer, and therefore the mark that should be on display for all to see in a church member. That they bear the marks of a disciple of Christ. That their life shows evidence of being a follower of Christ.
Some marks of a disciple:
1.) That they display the fruits of the spirit found in Galatians 5:22-23
Galatians 5:22–23 ESV
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
2.) Disciples will be marked by love for one another. Love that seeks to forego our natural inclinations to hold grudges, but a love that is founded in Christ.
John 13:35 ESV
35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
3.) Disciples are to be growing and maturing in their faith.
Colossians 1:28–29 ESV
28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
4.) Disciples will frequently refuse evil inclinations and sin, and encourage others to do the same. Refuse sin and encourage others to do likewise
Hebrews 3:12–14 ESV
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
We should be farther along now than we were 1 year ago. We should be humbled by our failures and learn from them. We should grow in our love and knowledge of the Lord and of each other. We should be quick to acknowledge our own sin and quick to forgive the sins of others against us. This is what sanctification does to a people covenanting together to portray the gospel.
After discipleship comes baptism. Pay careful attention to how Jesus worded this here. He doesn’t say to baptize and then make disciples. He says to make disciples and then baptize them. This is where we as the church need to exercise more prudence in following scripture’s teachings on baptism.
Baptism is one of two ordinances commanded of us in scripture by our Lord Jesus, so it should be held in high regard. And, I believe, and argue to you that the bible shows us that it should be deeply connected to church membership.
We do see many immediate baptisms in the book of Acts, but I would argue these were all from events that we cannot replicate today. Most of them were apostolic baptisms and/or were connected to miracles being performed in the early church.
But we do see the ordinary work of the church in Acts in many places, Acts 18 is a great chapter on. We see instances of ordinary believers teaching others and those others believing in Christ and eventually being baptized and welcomed as a part of the church.
For this reason, we should use prudence with spontaneous baptisms and be very intentional that when we baptize we are also simultaneously connecting a new convert to the church. You are now in covenant with this group of people. You covenant with us and we covenant with you. We are now bound to you to teach you, disciple you, love you. You are now bound to us to do the same and commit to the ministry of the gospel through this church. You are now partnering with us to preach the gospel, portray the gospel, and protect the gospel.
And when we look at it in that light, we take baptism and membership much more seriously, and hold them in the high esteem that they deserve.
3.) The Lord’s Supper
Kent just recently taught us on the Lord’s Supper in our Wednesday night study, as such time does not allow me to expound to that depth here, but know we have taught it and if you missed that lesson and want to learn more, please see any of the elders or Kent. But I do want to include it here and make some brief comments on how this relates to meaningful membership.
The Lord’s Supper is not a private occurence. We go over these texts from 1 Corinthians every month when we participate in the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is an activity that the entire church participates in together, affirming to one another that we are everything we just proclaimed in this sermon. That we have repented of our sins and called upon the name of the Lord and believed in Jesus Christ and His resurrection. That we are a disciple of His and we have been baptized by immersion after conversion. We are affirming that we are growing in that discipleship, that we are in the process of sanctification.
And when we participate in this as a church, we are reaffirming our covenant with one another. We can visually see each other partaking of the bread and the cup, which proclaims these things, and it affirms who we are together. That we are a group of believers that have covenanted together to preach the gospel, portray the gospel, and protect the gospel.
So what is our mission? And why am I just now getting to this part of the sermon (it’s in the title) this far into the sermon? Rest assured, we are not only halfway through. We are going to conclude with discussing our mission.
Our mission is everything we’ve already talked about. It is intertwined into all this. Meaningful membership is the mission.
Preach the gospel- evangelize the lost. Give them the truth of salvation in Christ. That’s the mission.
Portray the gospel- live as Christ lived towards each other and toward the world. Act toward each other in a way that only the Holy Spirit could be responsible for. That’s the mission.
Protect the gospel- in taking our covenant seriously, we take seriously who we allow into that covenant. This is not a drive thru spur of the moment Las Vegas wedding. When we baptize new believers into the membership of this church, we will do so diligently and in a way that causes great celebration and affirmation of that person’s faith to the church. When we add new members to the church, we will seek for evidence in their life of being a disciple of Christ and that they seek to be saints here that, as Paul says, do the work of the ministry. We will also be vigilant in protecting one another from sin, our own natural desires in the flesh that still linger, and temptations from Satan and his demons, for he prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to poison this specific congregation in any way that he can. This is the mission.
And when we focus on this mission and take it seriously, then we will see what Paul is telling us about in verse 16
Ephesians 4:16 (ESV)
16 when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
At the end of this sermon series, we will be providing copies to each of you of the church covenant, which we give out at our membership class. You should all have this for your frequent review.
So I ask you this morning members of Calvary and potential members of Calvary, in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, let’s reaffirm our covenant together to be a community of believers that preaches the gospel, portrays the gospel, and protects the gospel.
Colossians 3:16 ESV
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.