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Life as a Church

Sunday Evening, Januray 1, 2006

I.  Introduction:  Do we have responsibility to/in the local church?
 We live in a time in Church History when people do not really have a sense of responsibility to the local Church.  If you asked the average member of a Baptist church what his/her responsibilities were to the church you would surely get varying answers depending on the particular local church they attend and the particular person you are speaking to.  Some, although hopefully not all, would simply answer that they have very little responsibility to the church.  Others might admit that they have responsibility while confessing that they do not know what the responsibility consists of.

This has not always been the case in our denomination.  In fact, in years past, churches have labored to maintain faithful membership.  In Mark Dever’s book, Polity, he publishes a number of works that explain how churches functioned in the past.  In most of these works there is a section devoted to the responsibilities of members.  It seems that at least the leaders in the church took the issue of members’ responsibilities seriously.  Yet, have we maintained that approach or have we abandoned it?

My goal for the study we are beginning on Sunday nights is to look at the responsibilities that members have to the local church.  I want us to spend some time together taking an honest look at what the New Testament says a church should be.  Each week we will look at different aspects of each responsibility (including biblical support, historical thoughts, practical issues, and other aspects that may be important for a specific topic).  My hope is to really lay the foundation of what it means to be a believer in the local church setting.  I want us to take our responsibilities seriously here at Trinity.  Yet, before we move to specific responsibilities, we must first answer a more general question, namely, ‘Do believers have responsibility to/in the local church?’  Tonight I simply want to answer this question by looking at a couple of texts. 

II.  The Biblical Mandate of Responsibility:
A.  Ephesians 3:20-4:16
Although much could be said about this particular passage and the others we will look at, I only want to highlight some clear points from these texts that call for believers responsibility to the local church.  First, in this passage we see that God’s glory will be displayed in the church (3:20-21).  Now this opens up some big issues, but we see clearly that if as believers we are going to live our lives for God’s glory then that will mean involvement in the local church.  In other words, is it a normal practice for believers to live for God’s glory outside of the context of the local church?  Not according to Paul.  Second, Paul’s urgings in 4:1-6 seemingly assume the idea of community and relationship within the body.  How can we bear with one another in love if there is no one another?  Thus, community and relationship is implied (along with some clear exhortations to responsibility as well).  Third, God has taken us, given us grace, and given us as gifts to the local church.  This is argued from 4:7f.  Christ has bought us with His blood and has given us to the local church as gifts.  Of course, the question becomes, ‘For what purpose has God given us to the church?’  I think we see the clear answer in verses 12-14 of chapter 4.  Paul says that we are “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 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, 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.”  And finally we see in verses 15-16 that every part needs to work properly for the growth of the body.  Thus, it is not just the elders or leaders who have responsibility here, but all the members of the body.  So, we see clearly Paul’s call for believers to be responsible to/in the local church in this passage.

 B.  1 Corinthians 12:12-26
This passage in 1 Corinthians is very similar to the passage in Ephesians.  Paul labors to point out here that the many parts come together to form the body (v. 12).  He goes on to say that God has arranged and brought us together to labor in the way in which He has equipped us (v. 14-20).  The climax of Paul’s argument is that all the parts are needed (much like we saw in Ephesians 4:15-16).  No part is dispensable, all have responsibility.  Thus, Paul again argues for the importance of each part recognizing and being faithful in his/her responsibility to the rest of the body.  We all have responsibility one to another.  None of us want certain parts of our physical bodies to quit or neglect its responsibility.  In the same way, it is important that we all, as members of Trinity Baptist Church, recognize our own place and responsibility here. 

III.  Some Conclusions
A.  As believers we make up the Body of Christ.  This is apparent in the Ephesians and 1 Corinthians text, as well as in other places in the New Testament.  Thus, in the New Testament to talk of believers is to talk of the Body of Christ.  The coming together of the Body of Christ is referred to as the Church.  Now this might bring up the question of Church universal versus local Church.  I do not want to get into the particularities of these two New Testament perspectives of the Church.  What I do want to say is that whether you are talking of the Church universal or the local expression of the Church, these passages make it clear that as believers we make up the Body of Christ and the most immediate expression of this is our involvement with the local Body, namely Trinity Baptist Church.
 B.  As members of this body, we have responsibility to one another.  Ephesians 4 makes this abundantly clear.  We see from this passage that we have been given as gifts to the Church  to labor in her and for her.  These passages do not leave room for solo Christians striking out on their own to face the world and its temptations by themselves.  Rather, they speak of a community of faith that labors with and for one another.  Of course the obvious question then becomes, ‘To what end do we labor?’

 C.  The end to which we labor in the Church is our sanctification and the sanctification of the Church.  Again, Ephesians makes it clear that we are to labor for one another until all attain to ‘mature manhood.’  As Paul says he labors in Colossians ‘that we may present everyone mature in Christ’(see Colossians 1:28), so our labor in the Body should be to this end.  We are called to labor for our own sanctification and for the sanctification of others.  This is our calling and responsibility to the local church.

1.  An objection to this might be stated as follows: God is responsible for the sanctification of believers.  This is true.  God will sanctify His elect, persevering them to the end.  Yet, in these passages we see that the means He will use to see this come to pass is the Church.  Thus, God uses us to labor in the lives of one another for the sanctification of the Body.  Specifically, God uses the preaching of the Word for our sanctification.  Yet, even this act is not a solo project.  We come together as the Body to hear the preaching of the Word, to respond to preaching through singing and Communion, and to encourage one another toward obedience to the Word.  Thus, to some degree, even the preaching of the Word is a community effort.  I could go on here to talk about more specifics but I believe as we talk this semester, the specifics of this will become clear.  So, we agree that it is God alone who will sanctify His Church, yet, we recognize from the Word that part of the means by which He will accomplish this is through the labor of His people in the Church.  Just as speaking the gospel is the means by which God makes men alive, through the Church God continues the work of salvation in the lives of His people.

2.  Thus, we answer the question, ‘Do believers have responsibility to/in the local Church’ with a resounding yes.  What are these responsibilities specifically and how do we labor for one another’s sanctification will be the questions we are trying to answer the rest of this study.  May God give us His grace for this task!

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 16 March 2006 )

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