On the denial of the authority of the visible church and the Christian going it alone

A lot of brothers, people I’ve been friends with for a long time in music and ministry, they don’t believe in the institutional church.

I get that, there was a time when I might have even agreed with it. I still agree with it from time to time depending upon the context and what’s being said.

A lot if it arises from an inner conflict over “authority”. If there’s a God he plainly has the authority God.. If there are Christians they submit to the authority of God and his Christ, they agree as the expression of their truth faith to believe true things and live in love for God and their neighbor. There are ethics and standards, rules and accountability, truths and consequences.

But God didn’t leave us on our own or to our individual thoughts as if these were a private concern. We are a people; a family; a body.

As Paul said, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

In this, there are miles of verses, explanations and descriptions of Pastors, Elders, Deacons, Teachers, Churches, Presbytery meetings and Councils in the Bible and then they sprawl out through the next 2000 years of church history. It is evident that there is not only a historical church that every Christian should be a part of but there is good biblical and theological reasoning for having it.

On church authority, I know it’s a complicated issue.

On the one hand, those entrusted with authority can abuse that authority. It happens. There are those that are willing to be given authority as if they deserve it – but unwilling to limit that authority to its legitimate use.

On the other hand, if someone doesn’t believe the teachings of Jesus but wants to make themselves out to be a teacher, or lives like a person that’s not a Christian and uses that to harm other, the church is set up to guard against such things. That’s why some people avoid it.

In the Bible, all created authority is limited; limited by its nature and limited by accountability.

But there is a worse thing, worse in my experience and personal estimations but also in scripture; being unwilling to submit to any overseeing or corrective authority.

In all these years in the churches I’ve seen a lot of evil arise from the false application of authority but nothing like the absence of any good authority. The worst people are not those that abuse real God-given authority but those that reject any God given authority, by far.

In the church one can only get away with so much but in the wilderness there is no law.

This thing we call the “church” is an institution created and ordained by God to the end of human flourishing. It exists for the safety and edification of the people of God. It is never the problem in itself but it is a fallible human institution. Many ask, how could the perfect and infallible God ordain, organize and implement a fallible human institution? The kingdom of God has one foot in Heaven and one foot on Earth. It is framed according to the will of God but applied in the dust by the sons of Adam. It is a perfect thing administrated by (as yet) imperfect souls.

The visible church, the one composed of church members with rules and sacraments, is a taste of Heaven but not Heaven itself. It is for the time between here and there. It is a fallible means to an infallible end. It is God’s ordained means to the preaching of the Gospel, the knowledge of the law, the communion of the faithful and for training in righteousness and so it is very good. There are other means, and those too are important, but this is the one that God sets apart as holy and specific of these important ends.

The solo believer might really be a believer but is remarkably ill equipped for the being outside of the people of God. There are reasons the flock is safe within the sheepfold but the stray does not survive the night.

So some will say “but I can do without it!” But can you? I’ve never seen it work. Then, should you? Even if you could – but of course you were not designed for that. God made the church for the needs of man not man for the needs of the church. If you don’t see that you need something that God provided as a means to your need – what are the odds that he’s just underestimating your level of ability?

We’re all seen the crash of the “Defund the Police” movement. The President of the City Council of Minneapolis said “We committed to dismantling policing as we know it in the city of Minneapolis and to rebuild with our community a new model of public safety that actually keeps our community safe.”

The effect of this was, “Just months after leading an effort that would have defunded the police department, City Council members at Tuesday’s work session pushed chief Medaria Arradondo to tell them how the department is responding to the violence: “The number of reported violent crimes, like assaults, robberies and homicides are up compared to 2019, according to MPD crime data. More people have been killed in the city in the first nine months of 2020 than were slain in all of last year. Property crimes, like burglaries and auto thefts, are also up. Incidents of arson have increased 55 percent over the total at this point in 2019.” CNN

Avoiding the membership in and accountability of the church in history is the Defund the Police movement of evangelical circles.

The some time abuse of the laws and forms of order, as terrible as such things are, are not nearly as destructive and wanton as the disestablishment of God’s own order – that he has indeed ordained.

Chaos is not a form of government and rebellion unchained is not an answer to the over-reach of due authority.

And there is due authority. It’s not like we made up Pastors and Elders and Deacons and Presbytery meetings and that persons should be trained, tested and approved before serving in a position of authority. It’s just that churches refuse to follow even these simple rules. You can show up just about anywhere with charisma and a pocket Bible and be a Pastor in a week; less if you can play guitar. Frankly, it should not be this easy – but anything is better than nothing where every dreamer simply ordains themselves a Minister based on their own inner feeling of accomplishment.

The man that says the church sometimes abuses power and so we should have no power in the church is a theological anarchist.

It’s one thing to defund the church but another to defund God – and the people that flee the protections of the institutional church in history have generally got an angle at play.

They often have such severe personal, character, moral or theological problems that there is no church that will support them, accept them or ordain them. Simply, they are not qualified. If we want to avoid the abuse of power in the church how about if we stop ordaining unqualified men?

If the first part of the title of a “ministry’ is someone’s given name they should be immediately suspect. By suspect I don’t mean certainly bad but so probably as to raise a higher than normal scrutiny (I admit, some of them are quite good but I do wonder if there is any sanction in the word of God for made us ministries that are not an expression of the church in history). But more common is that anyone with no affiliation or accountability to a church is probably just making up some nonsense. That’s what nonsense makers do.

Ministries like this can be huge, rich, successful and influential in the eyes of the world but rarely walk in concert with Christ and often fall beneath the most basic measures of biblical integrity.

“But Chris, you’ve worked in, with and for so many, many ministries”

Yes, and that’s how I know….

Q61: Are all they saved who hear the gospel, and live in the church?

A61: All that hear the gospel, and live in the visible church, are not saved; but they only who are true members of the church invisible.[1]

1. John 12:38-40; Rom. 9:6; 11:7; Matt. 7:21; 22:14

Q62: What is the visible church?

A62: The visible church is a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world do profess the true religion,[1] and of their children.[2]

1. I Cor. 1:2; 12:13; Rom. 15:9-12; Rev. 7:9; Psa. 2:8; 22:27-31; 45:17; Matt. 28:19-20; Isa. 59:21
2. I Cor. 7:14; Acts 2:39; Rom. 11:16; Gen. 17:7

Q63: What are the special privileges of the visible church?

A63: The visible church hath the privilege of being under God’s special care and government;[1] of being protected and preserved in all ages, not withstanding the opposition of all enemies;[2] and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation,[3] and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved,[4] and excluding none that will come unto him.[5]

1. Isa. 4:5-6; I Tim. 4:10
2. Psa. 115:1-2, 9; Isa. 31:4-5; Zech. 12:2-4, 8-9
3. Acts 2:39, 42
4. Psa. 147:19-20; Rom. 9:4; Eph. 4:11-12; Mark 16:15-16
5. John 6:37

Q64: What is the invisible church?

A64: The invisible church is the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one under Christ the head.[1]

1. Eph. 1:20, 22-23; John 10:16, 11:52

Q65: What special benefits do the members of the invisible church enjoy by Christ?

A65: The members of the invisible church by Christ enjoy union and communion with him in grace and glory.[1]

1. John 17:21, 24; Eph. 2:5-6

Q66: What is that union which the elect have with Christ?

A66: The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace,[1] whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband;[2] which is done in their effectual calling.[3]

1. Eph. 1:22; 2:6-8
2. I Cor. 6:17; John 10:28; Eph. 5:23, 30
3. I Peter 5:10; I Cor. 1:9

Q69: What is the communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ?

A69: The communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ, is their partaking of the virtue of his mediation, in their justification,[1] adoption,[2] sanctification, and whatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.[3]

1. Rom. 8:30
2. Eph. 1:5
3. I Cor. 1:30

Q70: What is justification?

A70: Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners,[1] in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight;[2] not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them,[3] but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them,[4] and received by faith alone.[5]

1. Rom. 3:22, 24-25; 4:5
2. II Cor. 5:19, 21; Rom. 3:22-25, 27-28
3. Titus 3:5, 7; Eph. 1:7
4. Rom. 4:6-8; 5:17-19
5. Acts 10:43; Gal. 2:16; Phil. 3:9

Q71: How is justification an act of God’s free grace?

A71: Although Christ, by his obedience and death, did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice in the behalf of them that are justified;[1] yet inasmuch as God accepteth the satisfaction from a surety, which he might have demanded of them, and did provide this surety, his own only Son,[2] imputing his righteousness to them,[3] and requiring nothing of them for their justification but faith,[4] which also is his gift,[5] their justification is to them of free grace.[6]

1. Rom. 5:8-10, 19
2. II Tim. 2:5-6; Heb. 7:22; 10:10; Matt. 20:28; Dan. 9:24, 26; Isa. 53:4-6, 10-12; Rom. 8:32; I Peter 1:18-19
3. II Cor. 5:21
4. Rom. 3:24-25
5. Eph. 2:8
6. Eph. 1:7

Q72: What is justifying faith?

A72: Justifying faith is a saving grace,[1] wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit [2] and word of God,[3] whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition,[4] not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel,[5] but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin,[6] and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.[7]

1. Heb. 10:39
2. II Cor. 4:13; Eph. 1:17-19
3. Rom. 10:14, 17
4. Acts 2:37; 4:12; 16:30; John 16:8-9; Rom. 5:6; Eph. 2:1
5. Eph. 1:13
6. John 1:12; Acts 10:43; 16:31
7. Phil. 3:9; Acts 15:11

Q73: How doth faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?

A73: Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it,[3] nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification;[2] but only as it is an instrument by which he receiveth and applies Christ and his righteousness.[3]

1. Gal. 3:11; Rom. 3:28
2. Rom. 4:5; 10:10
3. John 1:12; Phil. 3:9; Gal. 2:16

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