Tuesday, April 25

Distinctives of a Biblical Church

According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, the church has been entrusted with “the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world.” According to the Four Articles of Prague, the church is to be “marked by an unfettered commitment to the primacy of the Holy Scriptures, the centrality of the sacramental means of grace in the worship of God, the integrity of pastoral ministry, and the practicality of discipling discipline in the Body.” Similarly, the Three Forms of Unity, The Augsburg Confession, and a host of other historical documents in the life of the church have distilled the Biblical calling of local congregations to these basics:

1. Word and Sacrament: worshiping God in Spirit and in Truth
2. Covenantal Discipleship: equipping the saints for the work of service
3. Pastoral Oversight: the care of souls in holiness, integrity, and accountability
4. Evangelistic Outreach: word and deed, love and vision, beauty and goodness

In order to faithfully carry out these stewardships wisely, the mission of the church has typically been organized in Reformed congregations around what Francis Schaeffer called Two Contents and Two Realities.

The first content is “sound doctrine.” The church must teach it, exhort it, nurture it, and highlight it in all that it does in both its evangelism and its discipleship, from its worship to its societal presence. It must be a community where the Word of God is systematically taught, prayed, sung, obeyed, modeled, and portrayed in every discipline at all times. Families must be nurtured in the Word. Men must become stalwarts of the Word. Ladies must be adorned by the Word. Relationships must be shaped by the Word.

The second content is “honest answers to honest questions.” The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) and the Cultural Mandate (Genesis 1:28) are the church’s highest priorities in mission to the world. They must be carried out, perpetrated, and perpetuated in gentleness, openness, kindness, and helpfulness. Word must be matched in deed.

The first reality is “true spirituality.” Holiness, godliness, and spiritual discipline must be the distinctive marks of the true church. Thus, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and fixedness in the Word should be just as evident in the lives of the members as fervent evangelism and glorious worship. The majesty of God and the fear of the Lord must be evident in every ministry, every program, every effort, and every conversation.

The second reality is the “beauty of human relationships.” Within the church there should be abundant evidence of true koinonia. Covenantal care, covenantal succession, covenantal marriage, covenantal love, covenantal mercy, covenantal justice, and covenantal vision must define this “peculiar people” who are in but not of the world. At the same time, relations between the church and the wider community should show forth selfless service crafted in tenderness, empathy, excellence, intelligence, and glory.

Two Contents and Two Realities: “sound doctrine,” “honest answers to honest questions,” “true spirituality,” and the “beauty of human relationships.”

While almost any church may reflect individual aspects of each of these dimensions of the Christian mission, a “Reformed, Ever-Reforming” congregation will mature toward balancing and integrating all of them together (Micah 6:8) so that the beauty, goodness and truth of the Gospel looms ever larger in the hearts and minds of the families and individuals yoked together in it.

Clearly, every Christian is uniquely gifted to serve in the dispersal of grace and mercy to the whole of culture (1 Peter 4:10). Each member of the church is in fact, necessary for the proper and effectual functioning of that work (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). That is why it is so crucial that believers be properly trained and equipped for the tasks at hand within Christendom’s brilliant ethos of creativity (Ephesians 4:11-14). Thus, the church’s vision will necessarily be rooted in four basic principles:

1. The church is graciously commissioned by Christ to exercise a merciful discipling influence in the whole of culture (Isaiah 58; Matthew 25; and James 2).
2. It is the task of mature Christians in every vocation to train others around them—especially the coming generations—to do good works and to fulfill their unique callings with beauty, integrity, and passion (Ephesians 2; Titus 2).
3. A vision for a compassionate and comprehensive Word and Deed worldview of cultural endeavor is more caught than taught (Luke 4; 2 Corinthians 1).
4. It is more important to equip others as we fulfill our own callings—following a discipleship model—than it is to attempt good deeds in isolation, however splendid (Luke 22; 2 Timothy 2).

Thus will the church be enabled to do what God wants it to do as well as to be what God wants it to be.


JNH said...

Thanks for this good reminder. Just by keeping history fresh for us, you often make points that have more practical application in a few paragraphs than 18 out of the "top 20" books at the local Christian bookstore. Hmmm... maybe God gave us this "history" stuff for a reason after all.

Dr. Knox said...

Thank you for this succinct reminder. I am always so grateful for the daily lessons you provide for us on your blog. It has become an essential part of my routine. May our great God bless you. Also, best wishes for a good marathon this weekend.

Chris Hilton said...

Your comments are very timely as our own PCA church plant is going thru the process of formulating a vision statement and a plan for our future. I plan to share with others.

I remember you from CRPC days (back in the late 70's and early 80's). It is a huge blessing to discover your blogs on the internet. Enjoy them very much!

Paula B. said...

Why is it that whenever God begins to convict my children and me of something (in this case lack of deeds) that you seem to weigh in and reinforce that conviction within a matter of days?!! This is not the first time it has occured; it is a tad unsettling, but in a good way.
'Word must be matched in deed.' It is so easy to get immersed in raising/teaching a family, a good and godly calling, that I lose touch with this other aspect of our calling as Christians. As you said, this understanding is "more caught than taught." Good deeds are something our children must see modelled...not just in our family or in our church, but particularly in the larger community. We should be known by our good works. Thank you for this timely exhortation to be people of the Word AND deed.

Suzi said...

Dr. Grant: Once again, you have stepped right on my toes. I too find your exhortations here on the blog really, really timely. Often the very things that I am dealing with before the Lord and in His word are the things that you write about. It is a little uncanny. But, thank you for being so wonderfully used to restore Christian virtue to the modern church.

Suzi said...

One more thing: is the Francis Schaeffer book in print anywhere? I just went to Amazon.com and could not find it there.

gileskirk said...

Suzi: Yes, it is available. Crossway has republished Two Contents, Two Realities together with 25 Basic Bible Studies. I would have much preferred the old stand-alone edition of IVP, but it is no longer available.

Diane V. said...

Dr. Grant: I am thrilled whenever your blog entries touch on the Church. As a pastor's wife it has a way of inspiring me to encourage my pastor husband to press on in the calling God has on his life. It also brings that sense of humility in knowing this sacred place of servanthood to which God has placed us. May we run this race in such a way that brings honor to His name.

And speaking of races, we will pray that you will feel 100% for your marathon this weekend.

GL said...

Thank you for the reminder and positive depiction of who we are to be and do. Good stuff.

gileskirk said...

Diane: Thank you. Give my warmest greetings to everyone there--and to that beloved pastor-husband of yours!

Eric F. Langborgh said...

Dear Pastor Grant,

Like others here, I continue to be blessed by your ministry. I especially enjoyed and appreciated this post.

In fact, by linking to both this post and another one along a similar vein from Peter Leithart, I applied what you are saying here specifically to the individual believer, in my blog post: "On The Necessity and Distinctives of a Biblical Church." You may find it at this address: