Posts tagged ‘church’

June 4, 2014

Daily Devotionals (June 4th): Welcome to the New Testament Church

by Aaron Dunlop


I speak with people often who are “moving churches” or “between churches” or separating from a church” etc., etc. The reasons vary, from flat-out apostasy to “I just don’t feel…” and everything in between. There are many legitimate reasons for leaving a church or for moving on to another. For the most part those who are looking for a church are serious about church, which is why they are searching. But what many are searching for is an illusion couched in beautifully biblical language—to use the classic phrase—“a New Testament church.”

I say an illusion because many who use this phrase have never really thought about what a New Testament church looked like? It is not as cosy, welcoming, and loving as one might hope. Go to Corinth, for example, where the church was dealing with deep and sordid immorality, or to Colossi where they were shaken in the faith in danger of being led astray. What about Galatia where the purity of the gospel was challenged, or the church in Philippi where two of the women had a falling out that threatened the unity of the congregation? What about Thessalonica where the Christians were consumed with the end-times (sounds familiar) and were being deceived? The list goes on and on (see Revelation 2–3).

In short the proverbial “New Testament church” that you are searching for is like yourself—in transition and far from ideal. It has not yet arrived and therefore it is called “the church militant and not yet triumphant.” So, don’t fall into the trap of carping and criticising the church because of all of the faults and imperfections. I do not want to be simplistic, and I am not saying that every church problem can be condensed down to Philippians 1:18, but it is a good place to start. Paul said that despite the fact that people were proud, vindictive, jealous, self-serving, unloving and hurtful (welcome to the New Testament church), “Christ is preached and I therein do rejoice.”

Reading: “What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.—Philippians 1:18

May 7, 2014

Daily Devotionals (May 7th): The Blessing of Church Community

by Aaron Dunlop


“I believe that a church is a community of believers, and a community serves each other, in sickness and health. The pastor … is our friend. He is a real friend, which means that, over the years, we have come to appreciate each others’ strengths and weaknesses. Real Christian friends are like that. We fail one another and in repentance and restoration, we are made stronger and more humble. It is nice to have friends like that. Comforting. Restorative.” (p. 136)

Reading: “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.”—Hebrews 12:22–24

Selections from The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield (Pittsburgh: Crown & Covenant, 2012). Used with permission.


October 23, 2013

The Reformation of a Sectarian Church

by Aaron Dunlop

John Calvin

John Calvin

In 1544 John Calvin wrote a letter to the Emperor Charles V to be presented at the Imperial Diet at Spires. In that letter he defended the work of Luther and the Reformation and identified a number of corruptions that necessitated reform “without delay.” This was a call for reform in both “doctrine and the Church.”

For Calvin it was not only the doctrines taught in Scripture that he cared about but also the government of the church. Rome had become “a species of foul and insufferable tyranny” led by one man, the pope, and located in one place, Rome. It was this centralisation of the “vaunted power of the Church” that Calvin said was “leading men like sheep to the slaughter.” The apostolic commission to take Christ freely to the nations was replaced by a “tyrant [who] ever so monstrously abused the patience of his subjects as to insist that everything he proclaimed should be received as a message from heaven.” The gospel had lost its simplicity and the worship of God its universal application. The church was only recognised as it appeared in the external form prescribed by the leadership at Rome. Ironically, the Roman Catholic Church had ceased to be catholic.

Gene Osterhaven wrote:

The Reformation was needed and continues to be needed because of the lack of catholicity in the church. The Reformers’ work was necessary because the church had become too “Roman” in some areas, and too “Greek” in others. The church was no longer “catholic,” or universal, in its breadth, outlook, and teachings, but had become provincial and errant. The Reformers sought to restore it to true catholicity. (The Spirit of the Reformed Tradition, Eerdmans, 1971)

In his reform of the church Calvin was careful to retain the word Catholic and he was known as “the most catholic of the Fathers of the Church in the Reformation era.” The entire fourth book of his Institutes is a treatment “Of the Holy Catholic Church.” With the pure ministry of the Word and the true celebration of the sacraments Calvin concluded that “we may safely recognise a church in every society.”

For Calvin, Reformation meant more than theological exactness and purity of worship. To be truly “separated unto the gospel” Calvin and the Reformers realised that they had to step outside the box of cultural and sectarian traditions if the church was going to be recognised “in every society.”

This is an important little phrase—“in every society”—and I have to wonder if we have followed Calvin’s model for the New Testament church or have we returned to the provincialism condemned by our Reformed forebears. We speak today of churches from a particular country or culture—“black,” “Hispanic,” “Dutch,” etc., and we speak of denominations more in terms of little ecclesiastical subcultures. We get comfortable within our own cultural and sectarian mould and often make that the standard for all Christendom. The spirit of the Reformers was the spirit of catholicity, and the spirit of catholicity is the spirit of moderation and accommodation.

I recognise that today’s church is more complex than the church in 1544 and I am not saying we need to abandon denominationalism—that is a subject for another day. What we do need at the very least, however, is to consider the church outside of our own cultural traditions and personal inclinations. We need to hold the truth resolutely but with a love that will recognise, respect, and rejoice in the catholicity of the church. This is what Christ prayed for in John 17:23.

February 16, 2013

Christ the True Head of His Church

by colinmercer


Earlier this week the pope announced that he would retire from office on February 28, 2013. The official word is that he feels he is too old and is in ill health, but there is widespread speculation that there is much more to his planned retirement than what is being reported in the press. Regardless of the reason for his announcement, it has come as a shock to many devout Roman Catholics. It’s the first time in 600 years that such a thing has happened, and back then it was surrounded by intrigue, scandal, conspiracy, and controversy. Who knows what will be unearthed this time around?

However, whatever the reason for the announcement, it raises all kinds of questions about the claims of the pope. Many are aware that he claims to be “the vicar of Christ on earth,” “the head of the church,” “the chief pastor of the whole church on earth.” He also claims, among other things, infallibility and papal authority. He expects those who are under him to obey him.

It was expected that the present pope would continue in the position until death, but now he’s retiring and where does that leave him or his followers or his church? The whole story has not been told yet of his “retirement,” but it brings into focus the falseness and corruption of the papacy.

As a Protestant I do not accept the pope as the head of the church. The Westminster Confession of Faith declares in Chapter 25:6 “There is no other head of the church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God.”

That statement does two things. First, it identifies the pope as the antichrist, one who opposes Christ and is contrary to Christ. The papacy is anti-Christian. Its mass is anti-Christian; its indulgences, penances, confessional, and idolatry are anti-Christian; and the pope is the anti-Christ within the church. And when one retires they simply elect another one and the anti-Christian system will continue.

Second, it confirms that Christ is the sole king and only head of His church. This is in agreement with Scripture: Colossians 1:18 and Ephesians 1:22. This truth ought to thrill the heart of every Christian. Unlike the pope, Christ will never retire, resign, or be removed. He will never bring scandal to His cause. He is the head of His church for ever, and He is not just a figure head who grows frail or is forced out. He is the eternal head of His people who will continually meet the needs of His church. In a few days one pope will be replaced by another, but there is none who can or will or needs to replace Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ is the great and everlasting Prophet, Priest, and King of His people. Christians should rejoice in that and should busy themselves proclaiming it to a lost world. There are many anti-Christs in the world but one true and living Christ who has said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by me” (John 14:6).

February 25, 2012

Daily Devotionals: (Feb. 25th) The Impact of a Spiritual Church

by colinmercer

The New Testament Church: Learning from the first disciples of Christianity

Reading: “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” Acts 2:46-47

The church of Christ is largely ignored by the world. Certainly in Western societies Christianity is viewed with increasing indifference. The majority of people go about their business without a thought of the gospel. The church is just another building, and the congregation just another society, and the work of the gospel just another branch of social services catering for the poor and the less fortunate. In this respect the world looks on the church as a part of its culture. That evaluation of the church underscores the tragic reality that in many cases the church is making little impact on the world: it has lost its voice and influence.

It was very different in the days immediately following Pentecost. The advance of the church at that time made a vast difference in society. A spiritual fear came upon the people. There was a consciousness of God even among the ungodly; there was a restraint of sin. As a result, the church had “favor with all the people”; literally, the church found acceptance with the people.

That leads me to think that the world took notice of the church. So why is it that today the world looks the other way and cares little for the church? Could part of it be that we have lost the power of the Holy Ghost? A church on spiritual fire through the visitation of the Holy Spirit will always make an impact. Now, that’s what we need.

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