On Sunday we began a new sermon series on the Church. You may be asking, why? Why would we have a series of sermons on the church? Carl Trueman’s statements in the forward to the new edition of James Bannerman’s classic work (1869), The Church of Christ provides a good answer. Trueman wrote:
Paul laid plans for the transition from apostolic to post-apostolic Christianity in his Pastoral Epistles. In 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, he laid out a normative pattern for the church in the post-apostolic era. At a basic level, the church needed a stable, orthodox doctrinal testimony (a form or pattern of sound words) and a form of government, overseers and deacons. In short, Paul saw that the most important practical thing the church needed was a practical doctrine of the church herself. To survive after the death of the apostles, the church needed to be governed well in accordance with agreed doctrinal standards.
The same is true for the church today. As we head into a world very similar to Paul’s own context, a world of pluralist religion where Christianity is regarded with intellectual and moral suspicion, we need a solid grasp of what the church actually is and how she should be governed. The New Testament places the church at the centre of its practical vision of the Christian life and at the heart of the Great Commission. Thus, a clear understanding of the Bible’s teaching on the church should be a priority for all Christian ministers, elders, deacons, and indeed informed lay people. Only when one knows what the church is can one fully grasp what her task is and what tools the Lord has provided for the accomplishment of that task. (pgs. xi-xii, emphasis mine)
Reflect on the last sentence. Can you see how a misunderstanding of what the church is can lead to disastrous outcomes in practice? Imagine giving an electrician the tools of a plumber to do his job. Or imagine a trained plumber approaching the jobsite with a vision for rewiring an entire house. In both cases wrong visions, tools, and understanding can be devastating. When it comes to the church this is even truer because eternity is in view. The church is more than a temporal building, but an eternal institution made up of people (“living stones” -1 Peter 2:5). The Apostle Paul emphasizes the importance this way:
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. -1 Corinthians 3:10-13