The History and Organization of the Church – 1 Corinthians 15:3-4

It’s Thursday, April 16, 2020, and I’m Pastor Kim, and this is COVID-19 Connection Series # 26.

Welcome to today’s broadcast. I’m so glad that you are joining me. Make sure you grab your Bible, a pen, ad some paper. You’ll want to jot down some notes today.

How in the world are you today? Doing well I trust.

Philippians 4:4 reminds us, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice.”


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Dad Jokes:

Question: Why do birds fly south during winter?

Answer: Because it takes too long to drive.

Question: What has two wings, a tail, and breathes fire?

Answer: A chicken with heartburn.

Today in the News:

  • People started receiving their stimulus checks – direct deposit in the bank. $ 1200.00 a person, and $ 500.00 for each child. Did you received yours?
  • NY Times Reports – President trump is expected to release guidelines today for relaxing social-distancing. This has sparked concern from health officials. Not enough testing being done to allow Americans to safely return to work.
  • Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Barack Obama all have endorsed Joe Biden. Can you believe it? 
  • How far will it go? A British woman in a long-term relationship with a 92-year-old German chandelier has been told that her attraction to historic light fitting is not considered to be a protected sexual orientation. This woman identifies as an “objectum sexual” (That’s a new to me). Earlier she had a sexual attraction to the Statue of Liberty.Hey, Good News. My wife and daughter were at Costco yesterday, and she was able to pick up toilet paper!

Pause for Prayer:

  • Tom Spann and Bob Ahsmuhs – cancer treatment
  • Church family
  • Wise use of the stimulus money
  • Coronavirus to be used to bring about Revival in America
  • God to use his church to make a difference in our community
  • Wisdom for our church leaders
  • Those who are still working every day – travel, safety
  • 22 million Americans out of work right now

Our WORD from the LORD come from 1 Corinthians 15:3-4,

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,

   Those two verses were considered a Creed of the early Church. Around AD 32-38.

Today I want to have a word with you about: The History and Organization of the Church. Material is taken from The Church by Pastor Mark Dever.

The History of the Organization of the Church

Other than the role of the ordinances, the main church disputes throughout the history of Christianity have occurred over matters of church organization. In particular three areas have drawn much of the disagreement: membership, government, and discipline.

   I. Church Membership

Baptist Practice

Given that the New Testament restricts baptism to believers, Baptist have concluded the church membership is restricted to individuals who have made a credible profession of faith. The profession of faith should include submitting to believer’s baptism and making oneself accountable to a particular congregation with whom the professing believers regularly communes.

Church Covenants and their Use

Christians began to make pledges to one another before the 16th century, but the situation brought about by the Protestant Reformation created a fresh need for such pledges.

Charles Deweesee defined a church covenant as “a series of written pledges based on the Bible which church members voluntarily make to God and to one another regarding their basic moral and spiritual commitments and the practice of their faith.”

By the seventeenth-century church covenants continued in use not only among independent congregations in England and America but also among Baptist who adopted their usage, especially Particular Baptist.  From the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, church covenants, often accompanied by a statement of faith, acted as the most basic document of a Baptist congregation.

Over the last century, however church covenants have had a little role in the life of most Baptist congregations. I personally have noticed how certain aspects of church covenants have be revised to accommodate certain behaviors and practices.

Confessions and Their Use

The Church covenant represents the agenda (things to be done) of a local congregation, statements of faith or confessions represent their credenda (things to be believed).

From the earliest times Christians have practice summarizing the content of their faith. Here at Spirit Lake Baptist Church we have our doctoral position and it is available to all who ask for it.

Peter made the first Christian declaration of Faith when he said, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29).

One of the earliest creeds found in the writings of the apostle Paul is 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. This was the doctrinal statement of the early church.

We have all heard of the following Creeds:

  • The Apostles Creed (used when dealing with baptismal candidates).
  • The Nicene Creed (AD 325/381).
  • The Definition of Faith at Chalcedon (451).

The Protestant Reformation spawned numerous confessions:

  • The Augsburg confession (Lutheran).
  • The Thirty-nine Articles (Church of England).
  • The Belgic Confession (Reformed).
  • The Westminster Confession of Faith (Presbyterian).

Note: Baptist also produce confessions of faith. In fact, Baptist produced more than any other group because of the decentralized, congregational polity. Most Baptist churches are autonomous – they are not controlled by outside entities or organizations.

   II. Polity: Forms of Church Government

A second aspect of the church’s life that has developed over its history has been its policy or organization. Every group must determine how it will be governed.

  • Who is a member and who is not?
  • Who is the final jurisdiction under God to give leadership?
  • Who settles controversies and so forth?

To these questions several different answers have been given:

  1. Bishops

One of the earliest answers to the question of who should govern was “the bishop.”

The word “bishop” in the New Testament can be used interchangeably with the words: elder, Pastor, overseer (Hebrews 13:7, 17; 1 Peter 5:2).

By the second century the pastors of leading cities and towns had accrued increased authority, sometimes including over churches in nearby, newly evangelized areas.

From the second through the fourth century, the diocese (taken from the Latin word for a district in Roman civil administration) developed as an ecclesiastical area with a single bishop as its head.

Though their duties and responsibilities very, bishops in this sense are recognized by most churches, including the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Roman Catholic Church, Lutheran Churches Anglican Churches, and Methodist Churches. The Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches regard this office is divinely established.

Many Lutheran, Anglican, and Methodist Churches, recognize the office of a bishop as useful, but have recently democratized their structure, even submitting bishops to the decisions made by representative bodies of clergy and laity.

However on the other hand we have denominations today like Pentecostals and charismatics that have begun to recognize extra congregational authority for some bishops. And we have such things as “apostolic networks, growing up around particular ministries and individuals.

  1. The Pope
The Roman Catholic Church is distinguished from other Christian communions by its submission to and dependence on the Bishop of Rome.

For many the Bishop of Rome became the supreme authority of the church.

The Eastern and Western churches broke communion in 1054 over the western churches (and especially Gregory the VII’s) insistent that the Bishop of Rome be recognized as the supreme head of the universal church.

The West maintained (and maintains) that Christ declared Peter the first among equals and the chief of the apostles upon Peter’s confession (Matthew 16:16-19.) Peter then became the first Bishop of Rome, and those who succeeded him inherited his authority as well. Thus the Roman Catholic Church recognizes the Pope as the vicar of Christ, the head of the church on earth, with authority to ratify and so define tradition.

  1. Presbyterianism

With the Protestant Reformation there arose fresh interest in Bible teaching and structure of the church. The New Testament evidence for plurality of elders was rediscovered. In groups of ministers (called consistories) were put forward as appropriate replacements for bishops in the Swiss cantons that were reforming in the early-and-mid-16th century.

Heinrich Bullinger in Zürich and John Calvin in Geneva, others begin to organize according to a Presbyterian system.

  • Reformed congregations sprung up in the Netherlands, Scotland, Hungary, Germany, Poland, and France.
  • In Scotland, John Knox took the challenge of reforming the established church of an entire nation along the lines of the system that he felt to be biblical.
  • The nationwide General assembly became the final arbiter recognized in The Church of Scotland.
  • Thomas Cartwright at Cambridge begin teaching Presbyterianism in 1570 in his lectures on the book of Acts.
  • Presbyterian structures came to North America with the European settlers from Scotland and the Netherlands, where they have flourished.
  • In the United States the (national) general assembly of any Presbyterian body usually functions as the final arbiter in ecclesiastical matters, with regional synods and/or presbyteries ruling beneath them and with sessions (board of elders) of the local congregation below them.
  • Some independent churches are Presbyterian in the sense that they are ruled by a board of elders, but they have no court of appeal outside of the congregations on elders.
  1. Congregationalism’s Development

At the time of the Reformation churches, which were not gathered by a ruler or magistrate but by the shared convictions of individual Christians, began to organize, recognizing themselves as their own final earthly authority in religious matters.

Martin Luther strongly advocate at recognizing the congregation’s responsibility to determine who would preach God’s word to them regularly.

In England advocates of a congregational polity arose in the 1580’s.

John cotton, John Owens, and Thomas Goodwin advocate at the Congregational way.”

In 1658 the Savory Declaration (an adaptation of the Westminster Confession) laid out congregational principles of church government.

By the time the American revolution, two out of every five Christians in American colonies were in some kind of congregational church, whether Congregationalist or Baptist.

Today many independent churches are congregational and structure. Baptist churches are also congregational.

The Rights and Responsibilities of Congregations

Local congregations are responsible for discipline and doctrine. Disputes between members (Matthew 18:15-17), as well as matters of doctrine (Galatians 1:8; 2 timothy 4:3), church discipline (1 Corinthians 5), and membership (2 Corinthians 2:6-8) are all recognized as congregational matters.

   III. Church Discipline
For 1200 years between Constantine and the Protestant Reformation, church discipline, whether by individual excommunication or indirect (withholding) the sacraments from the population of a political entity, was often used more to protect the church’s corporate interests against the claims of the state then to reclaim Christians from sin and protect the gospel’s witness. (Wrong Use of Discipline).

When the leaders of the Protestant Reformation begin to recover a more biblical understanding of preaching and administering the sacraments as the two marks of a true church, the recovery of church discipline as a consequent mark followed. (Right Use of Discipline).

The twenty-ninth article of the Belgic Confession (1561) stated:

   “The marks by which the true church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if she maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only head of the Church.”

In our own day Edmund Clowney has summarize these marks as “true preaching of the word; proper observance of the sacraments; and faithful exercise of church discipline.”

Throughout church history Baptist have been committed to a regenerate membership in the visible church, and were vigorous practitioners of church discipline.

Greg Will’s research shows that in Georgia, pre-Civil War “Southern Baptist excommunicated nearly 2% of their membership every year,” and yet at the same time the membership in Baptist churches grew at twice the rate of the general population.

The point of church discipline is to maintain purity within the church.  (Please read: 1 John 3:3).

John Dagg put it provocatively: “When discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it.”

It appears as the surrounding culture has become more overtly immoral, twenty-first-century churches show some signs of recovering practices that promote the purity of the church, including the practice of corrective church discipline.

The church of Jesus Christ will survive. Jesus said, “the gates of Hades will not overcome [the church]” (Matthew 16:18).

May God find us faithful in the area of membership, organizational structure, and church discipline.
Remember, I’m in touch, so you be in touch. Contact other members of SLBC. Pray for and pray with them.

As Robert Cook use to say from the King’s College, “Walk with the King today and be a blessing.” Go and make it a great day.