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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8am service, 2005-01-15

Text: Ephesians 4:11-16

The Church is not a man-made institution or organization as some would think. Sadly however, some local churches today resemble man-made business enterprises and centres of entertainment rather than churches.The have adopted worldly objectives and methods to increase their membership and attendance in order to grow quickly into megachurches. But this trend betrays a mistaken idea of what the Church ought to be. 

The Church is not even a physical building as many people today assume. There is a mistaken idea of some church planting ministries that the first thing to do is to build a church building. The first thing to do in planting a church is not to erect a building, but to being the lost in a locality to the saving knowledge of Christ. When people are saved, it will become natural for them to erect a building to worship. The same thing should be true of Life Church. If anyone were to take away this whole building, there will still be Life Church. Why? Because the actual Church, according to the Bible's definition of the term, is not a concrete building but a congregation. It consists of the people of God. 

I. Distinctions and Designations

This can be seen from the meaning of the term 'Church.' It is a translation of the Greek word 'ekklesia' which means 'called-out ones'. It was a term commonly used in ancient times for an assembly of people. It is used 118 times in the Bible, and in several ways: Firstly, it can refer to a local church in a place (e.g. Life Church; 1 Thess 1:1 'the church of the Thessalonians'). A Local church is a group of professed followers of Jesus Christ in any one location. All local churches together make up the visible church.

Secondly the term ekklesia can refer to all true believers from all over the world who are members of the body Christ, what we call the invisible or universal church. (This is how the word ekklesia is used in Colossians 1:18 'And He is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence.') The universal church includes all whose names have been written by God in the Lamb�s book of Life, i.e. those who have been saved, are being saved and will be saved, past present and future.

There are also two other ways in which the word ekklesia may be used: The first is to designated the Church Militant - which consists of all true living believers on earth (cf. the visible church includes false living believers). (e.g. in Philippians 3:6 Paul said that before he was saved he was 'Concerning zeal, persecuting the church'.) The other term is the Church Triumphant - which consists of all believers who are already promoted to glory, in heaven (cf. Hebrews 12:23). 

There are several other designations of the church: It is called the body of Christ, a term which emphasises the headship of Christ (e.g. 1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 1:23); the temple of the Holy Spirit, a term which emphasises the corporate indwelling of the the Holy Spirit in the Church (1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesian 2:21,22; 1 Peter 2:5); The Church is also known as the pillar and ground of the truth, a term which emphasises the keeping of the Word of God which the Lord has committed unto the Church (1 Timothy 3:15). And the church is called the bride of Christ, and this term emphasises the permanent marriage bond between Christ and His Church (2 Corinthians 11:2).

II. The Church in Different Periods

Those who are Dispensationalists, restrict the Church only to the Gentiles who were saved from the time of Pentecost onward (Acts 2). We who are of covenantal persuasion believe that the universal Church includes the saints of both Old and New Testament. Thus the Church already began to exist from the time the Old Testament patriarchs. This however does not mean that the Church had the same form in the Old Testament times as in the New.

In the Patriarchal period the families of believers constituted religious congregations. At the time of the Flood, the Church was saved in the family of Noah. In the time of Abraham and Job, the Church was represented in pious households where the fathers served as pastors. Worship was conducted by the head of the family who sacrificed offerings on behalf of the family.

In the time of Moses, the people of Israel were not only organised into a nation, but were also constituted as the Church of God. (cf. Acts 7:38 'This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us'). However, since Israel was a theocracy, the Church was outwardly synonymous with the state and not independent of it. Worship was centralised in one sanctuary - the Tabernacle and later, the Temple.

In New Testament times the Church was independent of the nation of Israel. As Gentiles were included in the Church, it now assumed a universal character. The ceremonial worship carried out at the Temple was replaced by decentralised spiritual worship (John 4:21-23).

And so from all this, we see that in every age since the beginning, the Church has always existed. In whatever form it appears - whether big or small, visible or invisible, there have always been the called-out ones of God, the ekklesia, called out of the world by God to stand in a covenant relationship with God. And what should impress us is that no man-made institution has been in existence for as long as the Church has existed. This is the point that we want to direct our thoughts to now - nothing that is built by man will last. Every physical building will crumble, every kingdom and empire will fall, every big business enterprise will eventually go bust or be taken over by rivals. The fact that the Church consisting of God's called-out ones has existed in every age in history reveals one important thing to us - that the Church is not built by man, but by God!

Dearly beloved, the Lord is the One who builds the Church - He is the wise Master Builder. Christ Himself said this in Matthew 16:18 'upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' Since God is the Master Builder who builds the Church, the Church will bear evidence of His design. There will be certain unmistakable marks or characteristics in it which reveal that it is God who has built it, and not man. And this is the way to tell whether a church is a true church or not. Yes, there are churches today which are not true churches. They may have the word 'church' written in big bold letters on the signboard outside, and have a cross prominently displayed on their steeples, but they are not true churches in the biblical sense, because they do not bear the evidences of God�s design.

III. The Marks of a True Church

What is a true church? How can we tell if a group of people that meets regularly is a church or just a social grouping? Only by comparing it with the Master Builder's blueprint - where God's design of the Church is laid out. Now, this blueprint of the Church is not like the building plans drawn by architects. Since the church is a spiritual entity, its blueprint does not consist of floor plans, elevants, cross sections and perspectives. The blueprint of the Church consists of truths, commands, principles and regulations that originate from God Himself. The blueprint of the Church is the Bible which you hold in your hands. 

Every corporate grouping that calls itself a church must be built strictly according to what is written in this divine blueprint alone. If not, then it cannot be regarded as a true Church. In this day of End time apostasy, it is especially important now for all believers to ensure that the local church they join or worship in, is a true church which is built by God and not by man. And they can do this, by using the divine blueprint that the Master Builder has placed in their hands.

Now, according to the divine blueprint there must be five marks or characteristics present in a local church before it can rightly be considered to be a true church: Firstly 

A. Loyalty to the Truths of the Bible

A church must uphold all the fundamentals of the Faith, such as the Infallibility of the Bible, the Deity of Christ, the Bodily resurrection of Christ, the Second coming of Christ, and His substitutionary atonement. Now, today there are movements which call themselves churches, but they deny the deity of Christ. We call them cults. These include the Jehovah's witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. 

Loyalty to the truths of the Bible also means that all things in the church are managed according to the pure Word of God, and all things that are contrary to it are to be rejected. One example of this is the raising of funds - in God's blueprint this is to be done solely through the freewill offerings of the church members, and not by having raffle draws, carnivals or soliciting of funds from the public as done by charities. And so a true church should first of all be a Bible-driven church rather than a purpose-driven church. This is the first and perhaps the most important mark of a true church. Let us look at the second.

B. Building Up the Saints in their Most Holy Faith

This mark of the church is stated in our text, Ephesians 4:11-13 'And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ' The word 'perfect' that is used twice here does not mean sinless perfection, but rather spiritual maturity. Every member of a local church ought to be growing into spiritually mature Christians. Something is dreadfully wrong if everyone comes to church Sunday after Sunday but remains in the same spiritual state, without making any spiritual progress. The means that the church uses to accomplish this are the sound teaching of the Word, Christian fellowship and discipleship. 

In Life Church, we have many ministries that are designed to build up our members into mature Christians - the Sunday School (5 departments), 11 Fellowships and 11 Neighbourhood Bible Communities. They provide ample opportunities for training, for service and for spiritual growth. But it is a sad thing to see that despite having all these resources in place, there are many in our own midst who are still spiritually immature, even after being members here for years. 

Why is this so? It is because many of us are not availing ourselves of the resources for spiritual growth. Only about 20% of our church membership is involved in any of the ministries of the church. About 100 come for prayer meeting on Tuesday nights, 300 come for Sunday School (mostly children) about 200 may be found in our fellowships and only 200 in our NBCs - and there is considerable overlap between all these. Dearly beloved, I would like to issue a call this morning to those who come only for the worship service here: Please get involved in one of the ministries of the church this year, so that you may grow spiritually and Life church can fulfil its mark of building the saints up in their most holy faith.

We now proceed to the third mark of the true church, which is:

C. Carrying the Gospel of Christ to the Ends of the Earth.

This mark of the Church is based on the Great Commission which Christ gave to His disciples: Acts 1:8 'But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.'

This means that the church should not be inward looking and isolated from the world, but outward looking, involved in soul-winning, and making efforts to preach the Gospel to the Lost, whether in personal evangelism, corporate gospel efforts or in missions to foreign lands. In line with this, we have Gospel Sundays four times a year, and the next one is just next Sunday. Let us all do our part to invite the unsaved to come for next week's 10:45 am service. And let us also learn how to be effective witnesses for Christ wherever the Lord has placed us! Now the fourth mark of the true church is:

D. Rightly Administering the Sacraments

While the Roman Catholic Church has seven sacraments, the only two sacraments that Christ instituted, according to the Scriptures are water baptism (Matthew 28:19) and the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Note: This is one of the main points that distinguish a church from a Christian organisation. E.g. a mission board, Bible society or a parachurch group. They do not administer the sacraments at all, although they may bear some of the other marks of the church. 

Now, while baptism and the Lord�s Supper are administered regularly here in Life Church, not all who partake of them are really benefiting from them. If you take part in them in a purely mechanical manner - as if going through the actions alone will produce some change in you - they will have not have even the slightest effect on you at all! In the Church at Corinth there were members who took the Lord's Supper lightly. They treated it merely as an opportunity to fill their stomachs, and there were severely chastised by the Lord for this (1 Corinthians 11). 

Dearly beloved, the two sacraments that Christ instituted are designed by Him to be a means of grace, and if every one of us were to participate in them as seriously and expectantly as we ought, we may soon witness improvements in the spirituality of the whole church. Listen then to what you ought to do: understand the meaning of the sacrament - whether it is baptism or the Lord's Supper, pray earnestly and discipline your heart and mind to focus on Christ alone when you partake of them. Above all, yield your heart and mind to the Lord so that He can speak to you about your sins, and about His will that He wants you to do. Let us, as a church, seek to apply this together, so that the right administration and participation of the sacraments may be not only a mark of our church, but become a hallmark as well!

We now come to the fifth and final mark of the true Church, and this is the one that is often played down and neglected. It is:

E. Faithfully Exercising Church Discipline

This is based on Galatians 6:1-2 'Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. 2 Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.' When a member of the body of Christ commits a grievous sin, he is like a part of the body that is sick or injured. And if he is allowed to persist in his sin, the disease may spread to the other members of the body as well (Hebrews 12:15; 1 Corinthians 5:6). Church discipline must then be applied for the sake of preserving the health of the whole church.

Sometimes the infection may take the form of false doctrine. In 2 Timothy 2:17-18 Paul warned Timothy to deal with two members in the Ephesian church who were spreading a false teaching about the resurrection: 'And their word will eat as doth a canker (gangrene): of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.'

In either of these situations (sin or doctrinal error), disciplinary measures must be taken on the erring member in order to accomplish two purposes: to restore him to spiritual health and to preserve the purity of the rest of the church. The biblical steps for doing this are outlined in Matthew 18:15-17. Firstly, when you become aware that a fellow member has sinned you are to go to him alone to exhort him to repent. 2. If he resists, take two or three others with you as witnesses and talk with him again. 3. If he continues to harden his heart, then inform the leadership of the church. 4. If he insists on resisting, consider him as a sinning heathen man. When the church leaders are informed about the erring member, they may apply one of the five degrees of censures prescribed in the Bible:

a. Admonition (2 Thessalonians 3:15 'Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.'): This consists of tenderly and solemnly addressing the offender, placing his sin before him, warning him of his danger, and exhorting him to repentance and greater faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ.

b. Rebuke (Titus 1:13 'Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith'): This is more severe than admonition. It consists in setting forth the serious character of the offence, reproving the offender, and exhorting him to repentance and more perfect faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ.

c. Suspension: This involves the temporary depriving of privileges of communicant membership in the church (i.e. the Lord�s Supper), from office (as SS teacher, or helper), or from both. It may be for a definite or indefinite time.

d. Deposition: This consists in depriving him permanently of the exercise of his office, and may follow upon conviction of heresy or gross immorality. (Titus 3:10 'A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject.')

e. Excommunication: This is the most severe form of censure and is resorted to only in cases of peculiar aggravation and persistent impenitence. It consists in solemnly excluding the offender from the church. (1 Timothy 1:19-20; Matthew 18:17) 

These five degrees of censures should always be accompanied with prayer to God, that He may graciously use the act of discipline for the restoration of the offender, for the edification of the church, and for His own glory. Church discipline is never something that is to be carried out arbitrarily by anyone, and for every little sin.

Thus we have seen the five marks which must be present in a church to identify it as a true Church that is built according to the Master Builder's blueprint. A true church would be (1) loyal to the truths of the Bible, (2) building up the saints in their most holy faith, (3) carrying the Gospel of Christ to the ends of the Earth, (4) rightly administering the sacraments, and (5) faithfully exercising Church Discipline. 

IV. The Need to Keep to the Master Builder's Blueprint

Now, it is not good enough for a church to merely have all these five marks. The church also needs to ensure that these five marks will always be present. It is most unfortunate that in the history of the church, there have been many local churches which were once true churches, but which have degenerated to such an extent that they can no longer be considered as true churches today. 

One striking example of this is the Roman Church - It started off as a true church of Christ, and one whole book in our Bibles was named after it. But when the Bishop of Rome assumed full power over the church in the 3rd and 4th centuries, and began to issue directives and decrees that mixed truth with man-made traditions, the Roman Church veered away from the divine blueprint and became an apostate church. It stands today as the most prominent example of what can happen to a church when it does not fully conform to the Master Builder's blueprint! Let this be a warning to us - if we are not vigilant enough to maintain the five biblical marks of the church, the same thing may happen here one day.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:3 we are told that before Christ returns to the Earth, there will be an apostasy or falling away of the church at large. In the letter that Christ ordered John to write to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7, He warned the members of that church to take some urgent remedial action very soon, or else He would come and remove the golden candlestick of the church (v.5) from out of its place. 

If this happens, it means that the local church at Ephesus would no longer be able to bear the light of witness for Jesus Christ. It would cease to represent Christ on Earth, even though it may still exist as a local congregation. The privilege to represent Christ will then be passed on to another church - one which is faithful to the Master Builder�s blueprint. 

Let this be a warning to us here in Life Church. While we can be thankful to the Lord Jesus Christ for granting Life Church the privilege to represent Him to the world at present, we must not be complacent, and assume that this privilege will always be ours. If we are not vigilant enough to keep building and maintaining those ministries that the Lord requires of us, and thereby to keep bearing the marks of a true church, He may one day remove our candlestick!

Now, please do not think that such vigilance is the duty only of the leadership of the church. It belongs to every member of the church as well. There are some who think that the running of the church is left entirely to the leaders of the church who do all the ministering, and that the church members are just there at the receiving end, to be ministered to all the time. This is not what a local church ought to be. According to the divine blueprint, the church is actually a body with many parts. And unless all the parts are functioning as they should, the body will not be able to do anything (see Ephesians 4:16).

Dearly beloved, please realise that you have a unique role in which you must function. And for the health of the whole body of Christ, it is crucial and necessary that you keep on functioning actively in your role. Whether you are active in church or not, you will affect the whole body of Christ. You cannot choose to be indifferent. Whether you like it or not, you will affect the whole body adversely. 

May each of us therefore commit ourselves this morning to do his or her part in Life Church, knowing that we are being built together by the Lord Christ for a habitation of God.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25