Saturday, March 31, 2007

What is the church? Part 1.0

This question cannot be separated from what it means to be a Christian, so I’ll answer this question “What does it mean to be a Christian?” first. The following is a modified outline of a lesson I taught almost a year ago on April, 9 2006 called What Does It Mean To Be A Christian. Please bear in mind that this is not the exhaustive meaning of what it means to be a Christian. This merely scratches the surface...

In Christ

I. Secular Dictionary Definition
a. Christian: (1) Professing belief in Christianity (2) Of or derived from Jesus’ teachings (3) Christianity or its adherents (American Heritage Dictionary)

b. Christianity: (1) The Christian religion, founded on the life and teachings of Jesus (2) Christendom (3) The state of being a Christian. (American Heritage Dictionary)

II. The Bible’s Definition
a. Acts 11:25-26: “So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. [emphasis mine]” (ESV)

b. Acts 26:28: “And Agrippa said to Paul, ‘In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?’ [emphasis mine]” (ESV)

c. 1 Peter 4:16: “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. [emphasis mine]” (ESV)

III. Implications Of the Bible’s Definition
a. It seems that the way Christian is used in these passages shows that Christians were those who heard, believed, and assented to the teachings of Jesus as carried along particularly by Peter and Paul. So that means that at least the epistles of Peter (1 Peter and 2 Peter. Also, Mark see Eusebius 2.14 & 5.8) and Paul (Romans, 1 &2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon. Also, Luke & Acts see Eusebius 5.8) contain what the early Christians would have believed. So believing what the New Testament and the Old Testament teaches through the lens of Jesus Christ would have been the foundation of Christianity.

IV. Misuse Of The Title “Christian”
a. C. S. Lewis: “Now if once we allow people to start spiritualizing and refining, or as they might say ‘deepening,’ the sense of the word Christian, it too will speedily become a useless word. In the first place, Christians themselves will never be able to apply it to anyone (Mere Christianity pg. 10)”

V. Effectual Call (God’s Call!)
a. Romans 8:30: “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (ESV)
i. So Christians are foreknown (8:29), predestined, called, justified, and will be glorified.

b. This is a calling which God brings and summons people unto Himself.
i. He called them out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9)

ii. He called them “into the fellowship of his Son” (1 Cor 1:9; Acts 2:39)

iii. He called into His own kingdom and glory (1 Thess 2:12; 1 Pet 5:10; 2 Pet 1:3)

iv. He called them to “belong to Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:6)

v. He called them to “be saints” (Romans 1:7; 1 Cor 1:2)

vi. He called them to have hope (Eph 1:18; 4:4)

vii. He called them to Holiness (1 Thess 4:7)

viii. He called them to be patient in endurance of suffering (1 Pet 2:20-21; 3:9)

ix. He called them to eternal life (1 Tim 6:12)

VI. General Call (Hearing The Word From Born Again Christians)
a. The Gospel Paul and the disciples were preaching.
i. 2 Thessalonians 2:14: “To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (ESV)

b. It is important that we boldly proclaim the gospel message, trusting that God will, through His effectual call, do what he did with Lydia in Acts 16:14: “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.”

c. Romans 10:13-14: “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (ESV)

VII. 4 Key Elements Of the Gospel Call
a. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)

b. The penalty of sin is death (Romans 6:23)

c. Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins. (Romans 3:24-26; 5:8)
i. Our sins imputed to Jesus on the cross (1 Pet 2:24; Gal 3:13)

ii. His righteousness imputed to those who believe (2 Cor 5:21), through baptism believers put on Christ (Gal 3:27).

iii. Accomplishing justification of believers propitiating God’s wrath in the atonement. (Ro 3:23-25; Heb 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10)

d. Invitation to respond in repentance and faith (Acts 20:21)

VIII. Continual Repentance And Faith Are Signs Of General And Effectual Call
a. Acts 20:21: “of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (ESV)

b. Hebrews 6:1: “Faith toward God” (ESV)

c. This initial repentance and faith continue for the rest of a Christian’s life. As Paul writes in Colossians 2:6: “As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.”

IX. Therefore You Are a Christian...
a. If you know that you were saved by grace through faith, and not by works. (Eph 2:8-9) And…

b. Romans 10:9-10: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (ESV)

c. If you believe the following. Acts 4:12: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (ESV)

Please leave a comment with any thoughts.


Wayne said...

Certainly not how a Presbyterian would answer these questions, but interesting nonetheless. I'm curious to see where this will take you. Cheers.

Wayne said...

Hey Noah,

Oh, my only point is that where you're going seems to come close to jeopardizing any corporate and objective character to the definition (n.b. "seems to come close to" - no accusations).

Nearly all of those passages used in your post to define "Christian" (section II) could also describe a definition that went something like - "All those who publicly profess Christ and assemble together around word and sacrament under the sign of baptism."

In fact, it might be the case that the Acts 11 passage indicates that "christian" may very well have been a term initially used by the church's enemies.

I didn't want to see you paint yourself into a corner by ultimately making "church" and "Christian" essentially terms of invisible, individual and subjective realities.

The visible/invisible theological construct is certainly helpful, but it does have its limitations (I'm partial to John Murray's criticisms). It can too easily mask a nature/grace dualism that creates a number of problems. As one of your readers pointed out Acts 20:28 is a pretty important verse. Note that Paul instructs the elders to "oversee" (hence it has to be visible) the church for which God shed his blood.

Another way of thinking about it is that while the visible/invisible distinction can be helpful, it does not create two churches. We believe, after all, in "one holy, catholic and apostolic church."


Noah Braymen said...

I understand. Be patient...I'll clear that up;) I was actually going to post how John Murray describes the church in his little book "Baptism". lol...

I'm just developing a I'm not encompassing every idea in any one post. That post would be enormous!

I really appreciate your thoughts brother.

In Christ

Wayne said...

Looks like all you'll need to do is to check out Anderson Cooper tonight on CNN. :-)