scriptures

Who's In Charge of the Church?

lightstock.com
lightstock.com

Who's in charge of the church? Who's in authority over the church? The pastor? A bishop? A priest? Elders? A board of directors or deacons? The pope?

The correct answer—the biblical one—is none of the above. Jesus Christ alone is the founder and Head of the church—the Body of Christ.

However, the New Testament speaks of priests and pastors and bishops. Are certain people given special places of authority over people within the church? Well, yes and no.

Body ministry

A characteristic of the early church, and almost every period of revival since then, could be termed organic leadership. This would include leaders who either break away from existing institutional leadership, or rise up in spite of or in defiance of the institutional leadership.

This was true of the Neo-Pentecostal movement at the turn of the 20th century. It was also true at the beginning of the Jesus People Movement in the mid-sixties into the early seventies.

Along with fresh new leaders, many believers were empowered to step up and serve within the church in various ways, which became known and described as body ministry. People within the Body of Christ—the church community—were empowered to do ministry or service.

This was an important principle of the Protestant Reformation, a reforming of the church back to its biblical foundations based on the 5 Solas. What we call body ministry now was known as the priesthood of all believers.

Do you want to see revival?

The 5 Solas provide the bedrock of theology for the church—the Body of Christ—to function as Jesus intended. What does this look like in action?

The early chapters of Acts provides some good insights, and later in the book of Acts when new people groups were reached with the gospel and new churches were established.

When I hear believers say they want to "see revival," I wonder what they mean or expect. What is seen in the book of Acts is taking place in many parts of the world now. However, there is a caveat.

A fresh work of God produces new leadership, but these new leaders need equipping.

This is why Paul spent a year in Antioch (Acts 11:26), a year and a half in Corinth (Acts 18:11), and two years in Ephesus (Acts 19:10) teaching the believers, while reaching out with the gospel in surrounding areas.

The need for equipping

New leaders and believers are empowered by the Holy Spirit for the ministry God calls them to do, but they need the example and guidance of more experienced leaders.

By the same token, those of us with experience often need the influence of the fresh new life and vision of young leaders.

The Holy Spirit gave the apostle Paul vision for this need of equipping God's people for the work of the ministry in Ephesians 4:11-16. In that text, Paul outlines why leaders are needed for a healthy church body (community)—

...to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Eph 4:12-13 NIV)

This is not a New Testament concept. It's always been God's design for His people to be a kingdom of priests (Exo 19:5-6). But Israel chose to reject this by telling Moses they didn't want to hear from God directly (Exo 20:19).

The church, the community of God's people, can't afford to make this same mistake.

If you want to see revival, a continuous equipping of God's people and young leaders needs to take place. Not just in America (or wherever you are), but throughout the world.

This is a huge need in many nations where God is already moving in a fresh way.

A priesthood of all believers

It was never God's intention for there to be a formal distinction between God's people and their leaders. The terms clergy and laity are not found in the Bible, they're manmade.

The basis for a formal priesthood or leadership is never seen in the New Testament, except to explain the distinction between the Old and New Covenants (Testaments).

This is made clear in the book of Hebrews, especially in chapters 7–10. Even when Jesus is called our High Priest, it's in a different sense than the priesthood of Israel (Heb 8:6).

A clear, biblical view of the priesthood of all believers is found in the first epistle of Peter—

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:4-5, 9)

This is also echoed in the book of Revelation (Rev 1:6; 5:10; 20:6).

All believers don't have the same calling, gift, or role within the Body of Christ, but one thing is clear—Jesus is in charge of His church.

The 5 Solas and the priesthood of all believers

So, how do the 5 Solas factor into this principle of the priesthood of all believers? Here's my own brief summary—

  1. Soli Deo Gloria— the primary purpose of the church is to glorify God as His living testimony on earth, as the Body of Christ (Acts 1:8; 1 Pet 2:9)
  2. Solus Christus— there is only one mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5) and Jesus, alone, is the Head of the Body of Christ (Col 1:18)
  3. Solo Gratia— it is only by the grace of God that we're included into the church and how we are to serve the Lord in whatever way He gifts and calls us (Rom 12:3-8)
  4. Solo Fide— the church is not an institution, but an organism—a living body of believers—who are to begin and continue in faith (Gal 3:1-3)
  5. Sola Scriptura— the Scriptures (the Bible) are the sole basis of authority for all matters of faith, and this includes how the church is to function as the Body of Christ (John 6:63; 8:31-32; 17:17; Eph 4:11-16)

Don't give up on the church

As said before, God's intention is for all believers to be involved in the church as part of a community under the direction of the Holy Spirit and the leaders God raises up.

Do people within a church need to submit to recognized leaders? Yes, as long as the leadership doesn't violate the essence of these 5 Solas and become abusive and overbearing.

If you've experienced some form of abusive leadership connected to church, then I encourage you to not give up on the church. Seek out a community of believers and leaders who genuinely and humbly honor the Lord, and the truths of these 5 Solas.

Sure there are failures and problems, but the Body of Christ is what Jesus established. When things are not right, He will bring reform and revival.

If you love Jesus, be ready for what He wants to do on earth, and ready for His return. The time is short and there are billions who still need to hear God's story of redemption.


Sola Scriptura–A Simple View

unsplash_leather_Bible
unsplash_leather_Bible

How important is the Bible? How important is it to you and, in general, for all humanity? It depends on your view of it.

As you can imagine, personal opinions abound when it comes to the value of the Bible, within the church and outside of it.

People can get pretty emotional in their opinions both for and against the Bible. But, I've found the Bible doesn't need anyone to defend it.

The Scriptures speak for themselves

When I say the Bible doesn't need anyone to defend it, I have two things in mind—

  1. The Bible has stood the test of time. It is the most well-read, sold, and translated book in the world. Many may reject the Bible as authoritative, but, by and large, it is well-respected and loved throughout the world.
  2. The Bible speaks for itself within its own pages, along with the testimonies of those who know its value.

The Bible has several titles it's known by and here are three of the most common—the Bible, the Scriptures, the Word of God. The first two are often preceded with Holy (sacred).

The word Bible comes from the Greek word for book or papyrus, since the original written form of the Scriptures was on papyrus scrolls. We get the Scriptures from the Latin for writings.

Sola Scriptura

The Latin phrase Sola Scriptura literally means (by) Scripture alone. It is the beginning point and bedrock of why the Protestant Reformation (PR) movement developed.

As mentioned before, the PR started as a movement to reform the Roman Catholic Church and return to a biblical foundation for the Christian faith.

The heart of this first Sola is summarized here—

  • The Scriptures (Bible) are the only and final authority in matters of faith, life and conduct, and church practice
  • The teachings and traditions of the church and its leadership must be measured by what is written in the Scriptures
  • The Bible is the sole reliable source of divine revelation above any other forms of human inspiration or direction

The Word of God

The Word of God has a testimony all its own. It declares the writings in this collection of 66 books is God's personal revelation of Himself and truth to humanity.

Here are a few of its declarations—

  • Jesus instructed His closest followers after His resurrection from the Old Testament Law, the Prophets, and Psalms (Luke 24:25-26; 44-45)
  • The Law exhorts us to be sustained by God's Word (Deut 8:3) and speaks of Jesus (the human Word of God) coming (Deut 18:15, 18)
  • The Messianic prophet Isaiah declares the Word of God stands forever (Isaiah 40:8) and prophesied the coming of Jesus the Messiah (Isa 44:6-8; 45:21-23)
  • The Psalms declare that God's Word is a sure foundation and a light that guides us (Pss 119:89, 105) and testifies of the Son of God coming to earth (Ps 40:7)
  • Peter, one of three apostles closest to Jesus, reminds us that the writers of the Scriptures were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21)
  • The apostle Paul told his protegé Timothy that the Scriptures were God-breathed and the foundation for faith and training believers (2 Tim 3:16-17 NIV)

Some final thoughts

As the title of this post indicates, this is a simple view of Sola Scriptura. Whole books are written on the authority and origin of the Scriptures categorized as Bibliology—the study of the Bible.

A few books are listed below if you want to look further into this topic.

Because of Sola Scriptura, I prefer biblical theology over systematic theology. Why?

Biblical theology gives us a unifying narrative of the Scriptures. It's also what I see within the Bible when Jesus quotes and explains Old Testament Scriptures, and later as the apostles Peter and Paul do.

The Bible is an essential foundation of faith. It's been so in my life from the beginning, including my decision to follow Jesus.

How about you?

How has the Bible impacted your life and faith?

Books on Bibliology—

Books on Biblical Theology— (I've included one recommended book for systematic theology)


Here are 2 previous posts that are related—

Why Do You Believe That?

God Won't Fit In a Box, Nor Will I

Why Do You Believe That?

Photo credit: unsplash.com_EDennis
Photo credit: unsplash.com_EDennis

What's the most visited page on a website? The About (Me/Us) page. It's true for my site, as it is for most others. Is it because our culture is so voyeuristic?

While this might be true to some degree, mainly it's because we want to know someone before we trust what they say. Christian believers also need to know the validity of what they say they believe.

Over the next several weeks, I want to take a look at why we believe what we believe. This includes a look at the 5 Solas, the basic pillars of the Protestant Reformation, from my own point of view as a follower of Jesus.

A very brief history

Every evangelical church, or evangelical community of believers, is rooted in the Protestant Reformation. Many people in evangelical ministries may not realize this, or if they know it, may not know why.

The Protestant Reformation (PR) started when men such as John Wycliffe, John Huss, Martin Luther, Huldreich Zwingli, and John Calvin, over a period of 200 years, objected to the sale of indulgences (kindnesses) and other practices of the church.

As a means of raising money, the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) provided a way to pay for forgiveness, even for people already dead. There's more to what paying for indulgences includes, its origin and history, but it worked like a get-out-of-hell-free card.

The reform movement formalized

This led to a movement that set out to reform the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). When it was clear the church—the only recognized church at that time—would not change, the Protestant movement separated from the RCC.

Initially, three primary churches developed, then a fourth, for mostly the same reasons—

  • The Lutheran Church— started by followers of Martin Luther's leadership and influence
  • The Reformed Church— started by John Calvin's followers
  • The Presbyterian Church— started by John Knox in Scotland
  • The Anglican Church— this included the Reformers in England, but was formalized when King Henry the VIII broke away from the Pope

Luther's 95 Theses

Although many people had similar concerns, Martin Luther is most well known for his Ninety-five Theses posted on the door of the church in Wittenberg. Luther was a monk who taught moral theology at the University of Wittenberg.

The original intent for his 95 Theses was to promote discussion not dissension, but the church didn't see it that way.

There's much more to the story, but the essence is that Luther and other reformers challenged the authority of the pope and certain practices of the church that were not biblical.

The driving force of the Protestant Reformation was to bring the church back to its biblical roots. The Scriptures are to be the final authoritative basis governing all doctrines and practices of the church, not the pope nor other church leaders.

The roots of Protestantism

Protestantism is a broad term that includes churches or communities of believers who are not part of the RCC, but who hold to a biblical foundation of faith.

Other churches grew out of the four primary ones mentioned above because of other distinctions in theology, doctrine, and practices, but the essentials of the Christian faith remain the same.

The primary tenets of the Protestant Reformation are summarized in the 5 Solas (originally in Latin)—

  1. Sola Scriptura – Scripture Alone – The Bible alone is the sole authority for all matters of faith and practice.
  2. Sola Gratia – Grace Alone – “Salvation by Grace Alone.” Salvation is proof of God’s undeserved favor; we are rescued from God’s wrath by His grace alone, not by any work we do.
  3. Sola Fide – Faith Alone  “Salvation by Faith Alone.” We are justified by faith in Christ alone, not by the works of the Law.
  4. Sola Christus – Christ Alone  “In Christ Alone.” Salvation is found in Jesus Christ alone; no one and nothing else can save.
  5. Soli Dei Gloria – Glory of God Alone “For the Glory of God Alone.” Salvation is of God and has been accomplished by God for His glory alone.

Why we need to understand what we believe

Pure and simple devotion

We need to be aware of deceptions perpetrated by the enemy of our soul (the devil). As Paul points out, we need a pure and undivided devotion to Jesus.

But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent. (2 Cor 11:3 NLT)

It's always about Jesus! He's the Head of the Body of Christ—the church. He's the Core of the Gospel. He's the Alpha (first) and Omega (last). He's the only Son of God—Savior, Lord of Lords, and Returning King.

A strong and deep relationship

Our relationship with the Lord Jesus needs to deepen so we're not so vulnerable to clever arguments, deceptions, or anything else that would draw us away from a pure, uncomplicated commitment to Him.

I am telling you this so no one will deceive you with well-crafted arguments... And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him... Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. (Col 2:4, 6, 8 NLT)

Spiritual maturity

We need to pursue spiritual maturity, not by gathering more theological knowledge, but through deepening our understanding of Jesus—who He is and what He's done to redeem and restore us.

This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. (Eph 4:13-14 NLT)

It's who you know, not what you know

We need to be rooted and grounded in our relationship with Jesus, not just gain more knowledge about Him. We need to understand what He says.

The four gospels are the bedrock for our faith, as they were for the early church. Jesus is the one who interprets the truth of the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms for us. He did this personally for the apostles (Luke 24:44), and He will do it for us by the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:27).

Jesus is the Cornerstone of our faith (1 Cor 3:11; Eph 2:20; 1 Pet 2:4-6).

Jesus is our plumb line, our spiritual point of reference. As Jesus said to His closest followers—

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63)

If the truths we hold about Jesus and the Christian faith don't line up with what He says, then we're on shaky ground.

Do you understand why you believe what you believe?


Helpful links for the history of the Protestant Reformation and the 5 Solas—

Protestant Reformation

Protestant Reformation History

5 Solas

Cambridge Declaration–Alliance–Confessing Evangelicals