Ministry Vision (#1): Church and Its Nature

Summary of the sermon preached by Rev Dr K. Song on 13 August 2017 at St Columba’s Presbyterian Church, Peppermint Grove.
Church membershipBible Readings: (OT) Psalm 45 / (NT) 1 Corinthians 1:1-3
Main Points:
    I. Church is of God
    II. Church is of the called and sanctified saints
    III. Church is local yet universal
    IV. Church is of the sure promise of God

As you remember, five Sundays ago, a Ministry Vision paper was distributed to all of St Columba’s congregation. This paper describes who we are and what we’re prayerfully seeking in the Lord Jesus. Having asked you all to read and think about its content for over five weeks, now I would like to take some Lord’s Days to explain biblical foundation of this vision for St Columba’s with a series of ten sermons. We begin this series today with the topic, ‘Church and Its Nature,’ and, as you may find in the preaching schedule section on our weekly announcement sheet, the topics that will be further preached on are ‘church membership,’ ‘church growth,’ ‘discipleship,’ evangelism/mission,’ and so on. With these messages, my payer and intention is to help you understand who we are as a church, then, help you expand your comprehension on our tasks, being located at this specific geographical location and time. Then, such an insight will surely help and lead us to plan and do all things with a focus, seeking the Lord’s glory. Meanwhile, in the process, we’ll surely, by God’s grace, harvest the results of our labour in the Lord.

By the way, let me briefly talk about this Ministry Vision we have since last month. Why do we need a vision? We’ve been doing well over the past 121 years since 1896 without a ‘vision,’ then, why should we have a vision described on a piece of paper? Simply because all of St Columba’s need to be reminded of our current spiritual address and the direction our Lord is leading us to; we need a vision because we can’t waste our energy and time being distracted by the invaluable things of worldly rusts; and because we’re living in a generation that is turning more and more to be anti-Christianity and our next generation has not enough time to prepare themselves for the upcoming spiritual battle in the world. It is a time for us, as a body of believers and followers of Jesus, to turn our eyes away from the world and altogether look toward the guiding staff of Jesus, our only true Shepherd, and walk together, rather than staggering or dwindling. Simply put, this Vision paper is a summary of the urge and challenge of the Bible for Christians and, at the same time, our prayerful response to that challenge.

So, let’s hear and contemplate the Lord’s word, especially on the topic of ‘Church and its nature.’

First, church is of God. Church is not of anybody else or anything else; it’s of God. People may call their gatherings as ‘churches’ and name after anything they like to (like ‘Church of Scientology’ or of ‘Satan’), but when we say, ‘church,’ it is of God alone. I mean, ‘church’ is of the Triune God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

This points out two facts – first, God is the source of His church and, second, He owns His church. God the Father planned to save some from mankind to be His church – so, He is the source of church and its owner. God the Son paid the penalty for sin of those elect, thus, provided them the right to be God’s children, thus, He is the source and owner of church. What about God the Holy Spirit? He has provided God’s word to the elect, carrying out the will of both the Father and the Son and even indwelling them. Thus, God the Holy Spirit is the source and possessor of church together with the Father and the Son. In a word, God began His church by calling, saving and upholding the elect, thus, church belongs to God alone, none other.

What does this mean? It means, no one can claim its ownership; no one can even dream of taking any part of God’s church from the hand of God. So many historical facts prove this as truth. Nero, the Roman emperor, for example, could never claim Christians’ surrender, nor could another Roman emperor Diocletian of the 4th C AD destroy church with a series of most severe persecutions of Christians. While the iron curtain of the Soviet Union drew spiritual blackout over numerous people for almost a half century, that could never cut the relationship between God and His church on that land. Satan, ‘the prince of the power of the air,’ has always worked hard but never been able to take any one soul from God’s hand. What belongs to God remains under God’s authority and power, thus, no one can take it from Him. That is church of God.

This is exactly what Rom. 8:37-39 teaches. Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, and so on – in a word, nothing in heaven and on earth and under the earth can never be able to claim anyone who is in God’s church. And THAT’S WHO WE ARE! We belong to God alone! That’s the nature of church.

Then, who belongs to God’s church? Coming back to v. 2 of our text passage, you hear God speaking through the Apostle Paul, saying, “those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” That is to say, those called and sanctified in Jesus belong to God’s church.

Thinking about ‘calling’ mentioned here, I often find some people regard this ‘calling’ as their ‘choice.’ I mean, they think that they ‘chose’ to be Christians; they voluntarily accept Jesus and by this act of their will, they become Christians and members of church. In a sense, that’s not really a heresy because the Bible urges people to hear the gospel and come to Jesus in repentance and faith. That’s a willing and active submission to Jesus. But, when anyone considers this human will as the only cause of his salvation and his voluntary approach is the ‘call’ v. 2 of our text passage says, that person is, in fact, in a great spiritual danger because he tries to play God himself.

The biblical meaning of ‘calling’ is a summon from God. The God of all power and knowledge and wisdom and love convenes some people according to the divine plan He set even before the beginning of the world. That’s ‘calling.’ This is an edict issued by the King of kings and Lord of lords. Then, comes the play of man’s will, but only as the response to the edict of the King. This works similar to the way of the era of empires and kingdoms. When a king’s edict was issued, there was no choice other than his subject responded either willingly or forcibly. Think about Saul in the book of Acts. He was forced to realise the Lordship of Jesus. But many others who heard the Apostle Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem willingly asked Peter what they should do to be saved. Then many were saved as they willingly repented and believed in Jesus. The only difference between the edict of an earthly king and the summon of the King of kings, the God of the universe, is that the latter is hidden to man’s eyes and ears and even intelligence. It’s the Holy Spirit’s working mightily in people’s lives and His work is invisible, inaudible, intangible and incomprehensible to the fallen man. That’s why people feel that they chose to believe in Jesus, thus, earned their salvation. Hear the words of Jesus the Lord in Jn. 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” He repeats this again in v. 65 of the same chapter, “no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

So, what does this mean? Your presence in God’s church is not by your will, nor by any other’s power, but by the sanction issued by the One whose power and command is unbreachable, unbreakable and inviolable. Once your call is made, then, you respond by repentance and faith in Jesus, your position in and your membership to God’s church is irrevocable but eternal. It’s the decision and work of the all-wise God, so, there’s no flaw in it at all.

Then, the word ‘sanctified’ and ‘saint’ are easy to understand. Both mean the same thing, that is, ‘being made holy.’ Still in other words, ‘being separated from the world to belong to God.’ Your call is to remove you from the world, relinquish your membership to the world, only to belong to God. That’s what it means. So, God’s word asks a rhetorical question in Rom. 6, vs. 2, 12 and 14, “How can we who died to sin still live in it? … Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. … For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”

Having said, another important nature of God’s church is its oneness despite its locality. I mean, a church at Peppermint Grove is a part of one universal church of God and all other local churches in the world – as long as they are true church as the Bible teaches – are members of God’s universal church.

I believe many of us, if not all, have experienced this universality of God’s church. When you go away to another city or town and need to worship there on any Lord’s Day, you visit a local church. Then, what have you usually felt as you enter that place of worship? You feel welcomed; you experience a sort of spiritual warmth. Although the depth of welcome varies from church to church, you realise that those people you meet are Christians just like you are and, although there would be some differences in doctrine and practice, you know that the God they worship is the same God of the Bible you worship and dearly love. They pray in Jesus’ name as you do and seek His grace. That’s clear evidence of church’s oneness.

The greatest evidence is oneness in faith among believers throughout generations. Imagine that you met the Apostle Paul and Peter. You say hello to him, shake hands, if not give him a good hug. Then, as the excitement settles down, you sit with him and talk. Then, do you think you would’ve felt strange because he talked about the version of Jesus you were totally unaware of? That would’ve never happened – I can guarantee that – because Jesus he knew and we know is the exactly same Lord of all believers. Then, what about Abraham or King David? If you met any of them at their time, you would’ve immediately been able to recognise that his God was exactly the same God you adore and love and worship. Time difference will never separate us from each other in terms of knowing and loving God and Christ; likewise, locality doesn’t change our Lord. All Reformed and confessional Christians learn from other saints who lived before us, such as John Calvin and John Knox and John Owen, and others like Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon. Others who live together with us in this era also share the precious knowledge of God and Christ with numerous Christians in the world.

God’s church is located at a certain place, yet, connected to the universal church and that throughout eras and generations. We’re at this corner of Peppermint Grove, but we’re connected to a great throng of men and women who are called and worship the Lord with their heart and mind and soul.

So, God’s church is of God, that is, God planned His church and He owns it; His people, the elect, are called according to the wisdom and power of God, to be and live as saints who belong to God alone in Jesus. And this church is not isolated, but united with all true believers in the world of past, present and future.

Then, our last point is this that to this church of God and all who belong to it (or following biblical description, ‘her’ rather than ‘it’ because the Bible personifies the church as the bride of Jesus Christ the Lord), a sure promise is given. What promise is it? As v. 3 of 1 Cor. 1 says, a promise for grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

God repeats here His promise for His church given numerous times in both Old and NT. For example, Jesus says in Jn. 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. … Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” Phil. 4:4 tells all Christians this: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” That is not a command only, but a reminder to us of what we have, namely, the joy of being in the Lord Jesus! This is repeated in 1 The. 5:16 with the exact words, saying, “Rejoice always.” Many OT verses tell us the same thing, for example, Dt. 16:15 and 28:47 and Ps. 98:4, just to mention a few.

After all, what is promised to us is ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ as Rev. 21 and 22 tells us. There, such things as tears, sorrow, pain, death and night will all disappear and we’ll all be wearing white robes with golden crowns on our heads in the presence of Christ and God, dwelling there forever! Would there be any better joy or peace than this promise of God? No!

By the way, this earthly church is the shadow or symbol of that substance of God’s kingdom that is coming.

Having heard about this nature of God’s church, what must be our response? What must we live our life to match with our understanding of this nature of God’s church?

First of all, we must be proud, not ashamed, of being Christians and members of God’s church because we belong to the King of kings and Lord of lords. Second, we must be firm, not weak, in what we learn from and believe in the Lord. Third, we must be victorious, not failing, because there’s no reason for us Christians to seek hideouts even in a challenging time like this generation. Then, last, we must be active, not passive, in declaring the name of Jesus and God the Father and sharing this gospel of free grace and salvation.

Why would we remain silent, being afraid? There’s no reason for such attitude because our Christ is King and Lord and we belong to the Creator to whom all authority and power for all times belong. ***

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