This semester our goal is to look at and examine the responsibilities of believers to the local church. Thus, as you have seen on your outlines, we will be walking through each week different responsibilities that believers have to the church. Each week we will look at different aspects of each responsibility (including biblical support, historical thoughts, practical issues, and other aspects that may be important for a specific topic). So, again, our hope is to really lay the foundation of what it means to be a believer in the local church setting. Yet, before we move to these specific responsibilities, we must first answer a more general question, namely, 'Do believers have responsibility to/in the local church?' This morning we want to begin this semester by answering that question.
III. History of the Question:
A. To begin with, we must recognize that this is a question that the church has had to deal with throughout its history. To some degree, every generation has had to answer this question of do believers have responsibility in/to the local church? Even if you begin with the early church in the book of Acts, you see the Apostles addressing this question. Thus, we must realize that this is not a new question? Down through the years the church has spent much effort in answering this question. So, how has this question been answered historically?
B. Well, since we are Baptists, I want us to hear how Baptists have historically answered this question. Obviously if we expanded the question to cover all of church history then we could spend the whole semester trying to answer. Likewise, even if we only sought to cover all of Baptist history, that would take a considerable amount of time. So, all I want to give you this morning is a small sampling of how Baptists have answered this question in a certain time of history, namely the 18th and 19th centuries. In order to this, I want to look at some articles published in Polity, edited by Mark Dever, which seeks to identify how these writers viewed church life in their day. I think this will shed some light on the subject for us.
1. Benjamin Griffith: Writing in 1743, Benjamin Griffith writes \"Of the Manifold duties of Christians, Especially to the Household of Faith\" (104f). He proceeds under this heading to deal with issues such as loving one another, laboring for unity, seeking the edification of the whole body, watching out for one another and praying for one another, etc. From this we see Griffith approach briefly the responsibilities of believers to the church.
2. Charleston Association: The Charleston Association in seeking to clarify some of these issues in 1774 writes their chapter entitled \"Of the Duties Incumbent on Church Members\" (125f). They include duties toward ministers, duties toward deacons, duties toward other members, and duties to the church in general. Again, we see the stress on responsibility
3. W. B. Johnson, writing in 1846 comments, \"Great responsibility thus rests upon each member of a church, a responsibility which cannot be shaken off. This responsibility may not be met, the duties which it imposes may be neglected; but the responsibility remains in all its force-it cannot be thrown off. And what a responsibility is this\" (234). He goes on to speak of the necessity of obedience to the commands of the Lord since believers have put on Christ.
4. Joseph Baker writes concerning church discipline, \"Is it right for a church to exclude a member, against whom there is no charge of immorality, for simply neglecting some Christian duty; such for instance, as the duty to unite in celebrating the Lord's Supper, to contribute according to his ability to the support of the Gospel, to keep up family worship, etc.? We feel but little hesitation in answering the above query in the affirmative, and are very confident that we shall be able to make it apparent, that our views on this subject are sustained, both by the Sacred Scriptures and the usage of the more intelligent and efficient portion of our churches\" (276). Thus, Baker argues that Church discipline should be practiced on those who neglect their responsibilities to the local church. This is indeed a strong view of the responsibilities of believers to the local church.
C. It is clear that all these writers consider believers as being responsible to the local church. It is amazing how far we have come in a couple hundred years. We de-emphasize the importance of community in order to emphasize individualism. Our culture, even our Christian sub-culture, does not look kindly on the idea of being responsible to a local body of believers. This has greatly impacted our view of the church and our responsibilities to her. Yet, beyond the historical argument, what is the Scriptural mandate for the responsibilities of believers to the local church?
III. The Biblical Mandate of Responsibility:
A. Ephesians 3:20-4:16, Although much could be said about this particular passage and the others we will look at, I only want to highlight some clear points from these texts that call for believers responsibility to the local church. First, in this passage we see that God's glory will be displayed in the church (3:20-21). Now this opens up some big issues, but we see clearly that if as believers we are going to live our lives for God's glory then that will mean involvement in the local church. In other words, is it a normal practice for believers to live for God's glory outside of the context of the local church? Not according to Paul. Second, Paul's urgings in 4:1-6 seemingly assume the idea of community and relationship within the body. How can we bear with one another in love if there is no one another. Thus, community and relationship is implied (along with some clear exhortations to responsibility as well). Third, as Lee has preached, God has taken us, given us grace, and given us as gifts to the local church. This is argued from 4:7f. Of course, the question becomes, 'For what purpose has God given us to the church?' I think we see the clear answer in verses 12-14 of chapter 4. Paul says that we are \"to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.\" And finally we see in verses 15-16 that every part needs to work properly for the growth of the body. Thus, it is not just the elders who have responsibility here, but all the members of the body. So, we see clearly Paul's call for believers to be responsible to/in the local church in this passage.
B. 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, This passage in 1 Corinthians is very similar to the passage in Ephesians. Paul labors to point out here that the many parts come together to form the body (v. 12). He goes on to say that God has arranged and brought us together to labor in the way in which He has equipped us (v. 14-20). The climax of Paul's argument is that all the parts are needed (much like we saw in Ephesians 4:15-16). Thus, Paul again argues for the importance of each part recognizing and being faithful in his/her responsibility to the rest of the body.
C. Other passages could be noted such as Colossians 1:24-2:5, where Paul makes clear his labor in the church. He states there, which we derive our purpose statement from, that he labors to \"present everyone mature in Christ\" (v. 28). Thus, Paul again lays out the believers' responsibility to the local church, this time by stating His own labor for the church.
IV. Some Conclusions
A. As believers we make up the Body of Christ. This is apparent in the Ephesians and 1 Corinthians text, as well as in other places in the New Testament. Thus, in the New Testament to talk of believers is to talk of the Body of Christ. The coming together of the Body of Christ is referred to as the Church. Now this might bring up the question of Church universal versus local Church. I do not want to get into the particularities of these two New Testament perspectives of the Church. What I do want to say is that whether you are talking of the Church universal or the local expression of the Church, these passages make it clear that as believers we make up the Body of Christ and the most immediate expression of this is our involvement with the local Body, namely Cornerstone Community Church.
B. As members of this body, we have responsibility to one another. Ephesians 4 makes this abundantly clear. We see from this passage that we have been given as gifts to the Church to labor in her and for her. These passages do not leave room for solo Christians striking out on their own to face the world and its temptations by themselves. Rather, they speak of a community of faith that labors with and for one another. Of course the obvious question then becomes, 'To what end do we labor?'
C. The end to which we labor in the Church is our sanctification and the sanctification of the Church. Again, Ephesians makes it clear that we are to labor for one another until all attain to 'mature manhood.' As Paul says he labor in Colossians 'that we may present everyone mature in Christ,' so our labor in the Body should be to this end. We are called to labor for our own sanctification and for the sanctification of others. This is our calling and responsibility to the local church.
1. An objection to this might be stated as follows: God is responsible for the sanctification of believers. This is true. God will sanctify His elect, persevering them to the end. Yet, in these passages we see that the means He will use to see this come to pass is the Church. Thus, God uses us to labor in the lives of one another for the sanctification of the Body. Specifically, God uses the preaching of the Word for our sanctification. Yet, even this act is not a solo project (even though Lee will be by himself in the pulpit today). We come together as the Body to hear the preaching of the Word, to respond to preaching through singing and Communion, and to encourage one another toward obedience to the Word. Thus, to some degree, even the preaching of the Word is a community effort. I could go on here to talk about more specifics but I believe as we talk this semester, the specifics of this will become clear. So, we agree that it is God alone who will sanctify His Church, yet, we recognize from the Word that part of the means by which He will accomplish this is through the labor of His people in the Church. Just as speaking the gospel is the means by which God makes men alive, through the Church God continues the work of salvation in the lives of His people.
2. Thus, we answer the question, 'Do believers have responsibility in/to the local Church' with an astounding yes. What are these responsibilities specifically and how do we labor for one another's sanctification will be the questions we are trying to answer the rest of this semester. May God give us His grace for this task!
V. Close in Prayer