The Marks of a True Church
What are the marks of a true church? I have heard people say there are three: 1. The preaching of the gospel takes place. 2. The sacraments are rightly ministered. 3. Church discipline is exercised.
I can see that all of these are biblical. But is that all one should look for? What about prayer, love, evangelism, discipleship and practical care for people, etc?
Thanks for your question. Of course, many sects call themselves a "church." Such has always been the case throughout Church history. Because of this, the Protestant Reformers in coming to understand the true Gospel of Christ, sought to help people distinguish between true and false churches. Since early on in Church history Christians have used the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed as confessions of faith. If a Church has a problem affirming these basic doctrines found in these catholic creeds (the word catholic here means universal, meaning that all orthodox Christians would affirm these truths) it leads me to think that they do not embrace true and sound doctrine. If a Church cannot affirm essential truths such as the Trinity or the full deity and humanity of Christ, then it is embracing something else, and anything else is a heresy. A heretical church by very definition cannot be a true church. It is vital that we get our doctrine right on the essentials of the faith. We only have to read Galatians chapter 1 to realise that if a church preaches another gospel, it comes under the anathema (the eternal curse) of God. That is why Martin Luther called the doctrine of sola fide (justification by faith alone) the article upon which the church stands or falls.
The Reformers were clear: The one true holy and apostolic church is present where (1) the word of God (and the Gospel) is preached and taught; (2) the sacraments of the church are rightly administered (namely baptism and the Lord's Supper) and (3) church discipline is faithfully exercised. By implication, this third mark necessarily requires the presence of godly leadership (elders) who provide a safe place for the sheep to grow in Christ and who can ward off any wolves who seek to devour (see Acts 20). That is why Christians simply getting together for fellowship, though wonderful, without the oversight and care of elders, it does not consititute the gathering of a true Church. Christ, the Chief Shepherd has established His under shepherds for the care, protection and spiritual well being of His precious sheep (see Hebrews 13:17).
Other things are vital for church life as you rightly observed. We could add many more things to your list in fact. However these things flourish only where the three marks of the church are present.
For instance, lets talk about love. Love is absolutely vital for the health of a local church, yet we need to ask "how do we distinguish true Christian love from all imitations?" We do so by being exposed to the word of God. When God's word is rightly preached and taught it actually cultivates true Christian love amongst the flock. It is a function of faithful shepherds of God's church to (at certain times) bring caring, Christ like and Biblically based discipline to the church's members, both as an act of love and as a means of cultivating genuine and authentic love among the church's members.
I heard a good illustration some time back that I feel is worth sharing. Think of the three indispensable elements of a house: a foundation, a frame, and a roof. Many things may be installed in a house, such as couches, chairs, curtains, sinks, toilets, a bath or shower, a washer and dryer, an oven, electrical wiring, beds and so on. I am sure we agree that the list could be endless. Yet though I may have all of these things in a yard somewhere, I really don't have a house until I have the three essentials elements of a foundation, a frame, and a roof.
There are many essential elements for healthy church life. Yet unless the Word of God is rightly preached and taught, the sacraments rightly administered, and church discipline is faithfully exercised, there is no true church present. Where these marks are absent, true holiness will be absent too. If even one of these three marks are missing it should not be considered to be a true church of Christ. - JS
"Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live?"
Question: How can you reject free will. Does not Moses say to the Israelites "Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live?" (Deut 30:19)
Response: Yes it is indeed true that God commands the Israelites to "choose life", But when read in the context of the whole chapter, Moses reveals that the power to obey this command comes from regenerating grace:
"And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live." (Deut 30:6)
In other words, God commands people to obey, but he also supplies all the grace needed to do so. The command to believe does not itself contain the power to do so. God commanding obedience (what we ought to do) does not mean a person can do this apart from grace. God must set them free from innate love of sin and natural hostility to God, if they have any hope of moving toward Him. Left to ourselves we are too proud to let go of our self-complacency and self-righteousness and so we will never rightly understand our woeful, guilty, and lost condition, unless God grants it.
So why did not all Israel believe? Because not all were children of promise. Some God left to their own boasted free will, letting them do what they wanted. In Romans 9: 6-8 it says of Israel:
"For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring."
This means that spiritual circumcision was not given to all physical descendants of Abraham but to the children of promise in their midst. The rest were commanded but refused to obey. Some get mercy but the rest get justice.
In 2 Chronicles 30:6-12 we also are given a glimpse of what takes place behind the scenes of how it is that some people believe the gospel while others do not:
So couriers went throughout all Israel and Judah with letters from the king and his princes, as the king had commanded, saying, “O people of Israel, return to the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, that he may turn again to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria. 7 Do not be like your fathers and your brothers, who were faithless to the Lord God of their fathers, so that he made them a desolation, as you see. 8 Do not now be stiff-necked as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the Lord and come to his sanctuary, which he has consecrated forever, and serve the Lord your God, that his fierce anger may turn away from you. 9 For if you return to the Lord, your brothers and your children will find compassion with their captors and return to this land. For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.”
10 So the couriers went from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun, but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them. 11 However, some men of Asher, of Manasseh, and of Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. 12 The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the Lord.
Why did some believe? According to this passage, it is because God had mercy on them and gave them a heart to follow God's command to repent. Notice that the rest scorned and mocked God's word.
May the Lord grant us all eyes to see this truth.
Two Levels of Human Sin
It is one thing for individuals to commit a sin and yet know its wrong and feel remorse about it. All men do this and such sin is forgivable. But it is entirely another matter when society at large begins to call good "evil", and evil "good"... and zealously creates laws, and teaches presuppositions to children which positively mock God's law, calling it "bigotry" ... When society reaches this point we know God is beginning to pronounce judgment on people by giving them OVER to their sin. (see Rom 1:26, 28, 32). This is when the Holy Spirit no longer restrains sinners from engaging in sin but gives them exactly what they want, such that the sinner pursues his wicked ends with abandon ...
People in every age sin, but mostly knew (to one degree or another) that they were doing wrong. They may have done it against their own conscience knowing deep down they were doing wrong. But when a civilization reaches a point where good is aggressively derided openly and publicly as evil, and evil is promoted as the norm, in the name of some legal fictional justice or of a twisted understanding of "civil rights", then Lord help us all.
Luther once said,
"we are compelled to serve in Satan's kingdom if we are not plucked from it by Divine power ....we are translated into [God's] kingdom, not by our own power, but by the grace of God, which delivers us from this present evil world and tears us away from the power of darkness..."
While all unbelievers are captive to sin and Satan (2 Tim 2:26),when people are given over they have what is known as "Stockholm Syndrome" which is a paradoxical phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them.
When we pray and persuade our skeptical friends we need to remind them that we are acting on their behalf as their friends so when they continue in sin they are working against themselves, and helping their captor.
The Gospel, Election, Calling and Prayer (Q&A)
Visitor: won't all men eventually be called (John 12:32)? Do we even pray for the salvation of our loved ones? I understand evangelism but does prayer do anything for salvation if it's been preset?
Response: What we believe in is not fatalism but what the Bible calls election. There is a difference. Fatalism would mean people would be saved or lost no matter what we did. But in election, God uses means to accomplish His ends. Election, by itself, does not save anyone. Election is God's blueprint (so to speak) about what He will do in time by Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the gospel. In other words we cast the seed of the gospel indiscriminately to all men, and it will fall on many types of soil. The fallow ground (heart) that God plows up and makes good is the heart that will receive the seed of the gospel and when the Holy Spirit "germinates" that seed, there will be faith and life. Consider, that a farmer can work his hardest but unless God blesses the ground with rain then the farmer's work will be in vain. In other words, no one will come to Christ apart from hearing the gospel. The seed is necessary. However water is also necessary. We must pray down blessing from heaven if that seed is to bear fruit. The gospel is necessary but not enough by itself. "We plant and water, but God causes the growth."
You see only if God is sovereign in salvation does prayer make sense. If God cannot change a persons heart when we pray for them, then what use is prayer? If God can do nothing to change a heart of stone to a heart of flesh then prayer does nothing to help a person. An Arminian prayer is useless if God cannot change the will but only pleads with them from the outside. That is no more than we do. But since God does the saving by granting eyes so we can see, ears so we can hear and a new heart that we might believe, we can be confident that those we pray for have hope. Their salvation may be ordained but it is ordained through the means of God's people's prayers and the preaching of the word, apart from which they cannot be saved (See Rom 10). God put you in the place you are in so that he can gather up his elect through your prayers and witness to them of the gospel. What is "preset" is that people will only be gathered if you pray for and preach to them. Again, God ordains the means and the end....(the prayers of his saints that his elect may be saved).
Look closely at this passage on God's calling....
In 1 Cor 20:21-25 it says,.
it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Notice there are two types of calling in this passage. 1) the outward preaching of the gospel to Jews and gentiles. It is a stumbling block and folly to them. and 2) the inward call of the Holy Spirit to those AMONG Jews and Gentiles who will be saved.
Next, you asked "won't all men eventually be called (John 12:32)?"
When reading The Gospel of John chapter 12 in context we see a passage in which Jesus is speaking to Gentiles. In this passage Jesus is not saying that all men without exception will hear the gospel (which obviously does not happen) but he is saying that he will draw all men without distinction, both Jews and Gentiles, to himself. Up to then God almost exclusively worked redemptively with Jews, but now that Christ has come, the way for Gentiles has been opened.
I did not pull this interpretation out of a hat. Not only does the context of Gentiles fit, but also notice that the same concept is used this way in other parts of the gospel of John. In John 11:50 “Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them,...You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. I. e. Jesus died not only for Jews but Gentiles as well. Not all without exception but for the scattered children of God in their midst.
Hope this helps
Nor the Son: Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32
What does it mean that the Son does not know the day or the hour in Matthew 24:36? How does this relate to the doctrine of the Trinity?
Dr. James White discusses the text on the Dividing Line webcast.
Libertarian Freedom Does Not Hold Up Under Scrutiny
Libertarian free will is the assertion that we all have the freedom to choose otherwise. It declares that we are able to perform some other action in place of the one that is actually done, and this is not predetermined by any prior circumstances, our desires or even our affections. In other words, our choices are free from the determination or the constraints of human nature.
Now this seems like a very odd belief given that it can be so easily overthrown even with the most simple observation:
The fact that no man can choose to live a sinless life is proof positive that he has no free will. He is held captive under the yoke of sin and thus he sins willingly and of necessity ... and he cannot do otherwise.
In the Bible, the word "freedom" is defined in relation to sin. But since fallen man sins of necessity, and cannot do otherwise, he is not free. In the Gospel of John 8:34-36 34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." So if the natural man has a free will to believe the gospel, as libertarians claim, then why does he need grace? If his will is naturally free then it would do away with the need for grace altogether...To teach that the natural man has a free will actually overthrows the gospel ... it is precisely because man is in bondage that he needs Christ to set him free." (John 8:34, 36)
We must ask why can't we live a sinless life? What is stopping us? Answer: Because the will and affections of fallen man are in bondage to a corruption of nature. Our sin nature makes it so our "chooser" is broken, so to speak. In our fallen nature, we choose what we desire and love most, which is sin, such that we sin of necessity. And if by necessity then it is in bondage. Nothing an unbeliever does, even good works, springs from a heart that loves God. No one is coercing fallen man to sin ... he does so naturally and cannot do otherwise.
Libertarians teach that 'salvation depends on human will', but the Bible teaches (and I quote) that 'it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy." (Rom 9:16) Libertarians teach that '...as many as believed were ordained to eternal life.' but The Bible teaches (and I quote) 'AND AS MANY AS WERE ORDAINED TO ETERNAL LIFE BELIEVED' (Acts 13:48). Grace is not a reward for faith, but the cause of it.
Is there anything we can do apart from grace?" (John 15:5). When your synergistic friend says "no" then show him his inconsistency. If all people have prevenient grace, (as Arminians assert) then why does one person believe the gospel and not another? Is it the grace of Christ which makes them to differ or not? Or do they attribute their repenting and believing to their own wisdom, humility and good sense, and NOT to the grace of Christ ALONE.
"...no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit." - 1 Corinthians 12:3
Eleven (11) Reasons to Reject Libertarian Free Will
A critique of "Why I am not a Calvinist" by Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell
by John W. Hendryx
Evangelism and the Extent of the Atonement
This article by Mike Riccardi is excellent on this important theme - found here. - JS
Question: Pastor John, what do you do if you confront a chuch member with an offense and they do not respond. You then get another witness to confront them and they will not respond. Then the two of you go to the church eldership with the whole matter because the offender will not respond. Then the elders take the position of the offender. What in the world do you do then?
Thanks for your question. In Matthew chapter 18, Jesus outlined the sequence of steps we are to take when there is an offence between an individual and a fellow brother or sister in the church. This process is something rarely enforced today, much to our shame. However, Jesus' words still stand. He expects His disciples (including those privileged with the task of leadership) to follow His word in these matters.
Jesus, in Matthew 18:15-20 says, "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them."
If you have indeed followed Jesus' protocol, once you have exhausted the biblical steps mentioned here, there's really not much you can do. You have discharged your duty before God in doing all in your power to see the matter brought to justice. The Lord knows that.
The elders have then taken a position you do not agree with. Not knowing the situation, I do not know if the disagreement you have with the elders is because the they do not see enough proof that the other party is in violation of Scripture in their conduct, or whether the elders know of the violation but will not implement Church discipline. It is hard for me to comment further on the matter, not knowing any more than what you have revealed.
The only question that remains is whether you believe the matter to be so serious and such a violation of Scripture that your conscience will no longer allow you to submit to the leadership of the Church.
If you feel the elders are involved in a serious violation of Scripture, then you may well need to move on to another church. If not, in spite of your angst that they have taken the position of the other party, you should stay and submit to the leadership. In doing so, you can be sure of two things. Firstly, you have fully discharged your duty in the matter as you have followed all the steps our Lord gave us to do in Matthew 18. Secondly, you can be sure that the elders as well as the other party, will all answer to the Lord for what they have done.
I would say this though. Submission is never really tested when we all agree. Submission is in view only when there is a disagreement. Heb 13:17 is clear when it says, "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you."
All You Have to Do is Recognize Your Need. Really?
With regard to saving faith, have you ever heard a preacher say "all you have to do is recognize your need" as if this were the easiest thing in the world? You might as well tell a sinner "all you have to do is perfectly obey the ten commandments." The nature of proud fallen man is such that he can no more submit to the humbling terms of the gospel any more than he can obey the law, without the Lord removing the old heart of stone and granting him a new heart of flesh (Ezek 36:26)
Who is sufficient for these things? Grace is at the root of saving faith. This spirit-wrought faith is the hand by which the soul lays hold of Jesus Christ, is united to Him, and is redeemed. They who have true faith take hold of Christ's strength, courage and his victory over the world. The more faith you have the more useful will you be. Faith is like a seed planted by God and germinated by the Holy Spirit and grows up organically, by degrees, from faith to faith. That our faith would grow should be the daily prayer of all who love the Lord. Do you have faith? Always remember that it is not something that comes natural to men, but is a supernatural gift from on high...As John the Baptist said, "...a person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven." And when Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God, Jesus answered him that "flesh and blood had not revealed this to him but my Father who is in heaven."
The command to repent and believe the gospel is given indiscriminately to all. But, contrary to what many modern preachers would say, this is no easy command to obey. Men are tethered to the yoke of sin and are by nature hostile to God (Rom 8:7; 1 Cor 2:14) making them unable to rise above their own native resources to believe. Jesus does not come to fix our old house but says that the old house must be torn completely down to the ground. There is no coming to him in faith unless the Father grants it (John 6:65) The synergist, who still gives people hope they they are sufficient in themselves to meet God's condition, comes along as says, "All you need to do is humble yourself, recognize your need, believe the gospel..." which then puffs up the sinner, as if we only need to fix a few things in our old rotting house. But the true gospel gives a death blow to the root of our self-righteousness. The fallen man is proud and self-righteous by nature. He would do anything, even outwardly obey the commandments, rather than let go of his self-righteousness. But to give up self-righteousness is absolutely needful to salvation, and this humility, this letting go, is not a fruit that springs from nature. We cling to tightly and fiercely to ourselves. To confess that there is no good thing in us,that we have no merit or goodness of our own and must trust in the righteousness of another is the product of a new heart and so Jesus declares that it is a gift from on high that we owe to God's sovereign, particular grace in Jesus Christ ALONE with no mixture of glory to man.
How is it that so many preachers forget this obvious and pervasive truth in the Bible? It all arises out of ignorance and our desire to credit some portion, however small, of our salvation to ourselves. But once the light of the gospel shines in our hearts, and the Spirit disarms our hostility, the bondage of sin and self-righteousness is broken. Let us never "glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Tim. 1:15; Gal. 6:14.) not only for justification when we come to faith, but also for the quickening of the Spirit that brings us to faith. Both derive their power from the Person and Word of Jesus Christ. He provides everything we need for salvation, including a new heart to believe.
But I thought Calvinists Never Evangelize...
Here's a wonderful photo of my friend Justin preaching the Gospel (and handing out Gospel Tracts) to the passing crowds at the Superbowl last week. He and his team spent 4 days at the event reaching out to people with the Good News of Jesus Christ. They did not watch the actual game. They were there on a mission.
I've just had good news too - the publisher for my book in paperback has agreed with my request to allow a certain percentage of book sales for "Twelve What Abouts" to go towards printing Gospel tracts in India. - JS
What Do you Think of the Free Grace Movement?
Visitor? Have you done much research into the Free Grace Movement (FGA, GES)? I have having much conflict with my senior pastor who is a member of the Free Grace Alliance and hold firmly to Free Grace Theology. It would be a great encouragement if you could give me your take on the whole movement.
Response: The free grace movement, if I have my movements correct, are the no-lordship people. We obviously do not share their beliefs. I find it most striking that the "free grace" movement likes to speak of grace when they don't even believe that a work of the Holy Spirit is necessary to believe the gospel. If my memory servers me correctly they are free-willers and erroneously think that faith is what man contributes, as if this were easier than obeying the law. However, it is clear from the Scripture that the nature of proud fallen man is such that he can no more submit to the humbling terms of the gospel any more than he can obey the law, without renewal of heart ... or without the Lord removing the old heart of stone and granting him a new heart of flesh (Ezek 36:26)
Visitor: Yes, you do have your movement correct. From my experience the whole Free Grace Movement exists more for what they are against then what they are for. They are anti-lordship and anti-calvinism. They seem to be strongly dispensational to the point that if you are not dispensational, then you don't know how to interpret the Scriptures. With your understanding do you think this is a theology that will continue to grow, or do you think it is on its last legs? I am a Youth Pastor, and like I said before, my Senior Pastor is really having a hard time with me not being on board with his theology. Thank you, John, for your reply!
Response: I think Dispensationalism itself is on its last legs but it will not die easily. It has influenced American evangelicalism significantly for the last 100 years, but Dallas Seminary, the mother ship of Dispensationalism, has recently changed their tune from Classic Dispensationalism to Progressive Dispensationalism, which is really, in many ways, closer to Covenant Theology than Dispensationalism.
The so-called free-grace movement is indeed anti-calvinism, and what this means practically is that they reject salvation by Christ alone. Why do I say this? Well, of course they believe in the necessity of Jesus Christ, but the reject the sufficiency of Jesus Christ ... Sufficiency meaning that Christ provides EVERYTHING we need for salvation, including a new heart to believe. Their free-will theology essentially makes them sneak in a frightening level of semi-pelagianism (even though they like to talk of grace). They are, in fact, not free grace. They believe grace is CONDITIONAL. That is, God only loves a person if they meet his condition, faith. Otherwise they are cast into hell. While we agree with them that God gives us a condition of faith, but since man is impotent to exercise faith apart from regenerating grace (John 6:63-65) Jesus Christ mercifully provides everything we need for salvation INCLUDING a new heart to believe. Their strange belief system asserts that Jesus died for all sins EXCEPT the sin of unbelief. Our belief somehow makes up for our sin. But I believe the Scripture declares that if faith does not spring from a new heart, which God works in us, then we can boast in our faith because we cannot thank God for it. We could easily pray "thank you Lord for providing all I need for salvation except for faith. That is the one thing I came up with on my own." Thus we would end up attributing our repenting and believing to our own wisdom, humility, prudence, sound judgment and good sense. What makes Christians to differ from non-Christians from would then not be Christ but something else in me. Such a teaching radically misrepresents the Scripture.imho. I have long known of this movement (form the 1980s) and think it is a sub-Christian understanding of the gospel. That is not to say that many are not saved, but rather that their system of belief is largely inconsistent with the Bible.
Soon to be out in Paperback
Since the new book was published in an eBook format, many have asked if it would ever be published in a paperback format. The answer to that question is "yes" and it is now available for pre-order and will ship out as soon as it is published (an expected date being late February, 2012). It was very encouraging to then learn that a gentleman named Randy, in hearing this, immediately placed an order for 40 books, as he wants to make them available to the students in his Bible class.
I just received this encouraging feedback on the book today: "Highly recommend. Samson gets right to the point in a very well organized book. It seemed that every time a question would pop into my head, I would turn the page and the answer to my question was waiting for me. I have recommended it to a number of my Arminian friends, but they are very resistant. I can identify with that because I know from past experience (as a libertarian free-will believer) I was predisposed to reject Calvinism. But what freedom is found when the blinders come off and the truth slaps you in the face. I pray that this book would get into the hands, then the hearts and minds of people everywhere."
God bless, JS