SERMON: Understanding Our Distinctives, Part 1 | Various Texts

Understanding Our Distinctives, Part 1 | Various Texts
New Members Sermon Series | Shaun Marksbury | Grace Bible Church
Sunday Morning Service | June 2, 2019

A statement of faith doesn’t answer every question about what you can expect from a church you’re going to join.  As such, about a year ago, we engaged in a sermon series on the distinctive qualities of Grace Bible Church.  Today, we give an overview of the first seven of those points, saving the remaining seven for next week.  We discuss the role of Scripture in our church, the sovereignty of God in salvation, Lordship salvation, a biblical view of public worship, church government, church membership, and finally, church discipline.

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We are continuing our series for new members.  The first item on a new Christian’s checklist is baptism, so we started this series talking about that.  Whether you are a new Christian getting baptized or someone transferring to another church, it’s vital to understand what theological commitments a church has, which is why we gave an overview of what we teach last week. 

Now, a statement of faith doesn’t answer every question about what you can expect from a church you’re going to join.  In fact, some churches only have a kind of file-cabinet or website orthodoxy — if you ask them what they believe, they’ll give you a copy of a document that they hadn’t thought about since the last person asked for it.  Moreover, what they believe may not affect the preaching or the practice of that church.

As such, about a year ago, we engaged in a sermon series on the distinctive qualities of Grace Bible Church.  We wanted to explore what defines us beyond our beliefs, or, perhaps, how our beliefs are put into practice.  That series evolved a bit over time, but through it we hammered out fourteen distinctive markers of our church, which you will note are each framed as an affirmation.

Eventually, you will want to listen to that series if you haven’t heard it.  For now, we just want to give an overview of those points.  Much of this will be review from last week, but you will note how what we teach affects the rest of church life here.  We could review all fourteen today, but we’ll divide them between this week and next.  We start then with the paramount distinctive marker of our church.

I.               We Affirm Scripture Above All (2 Tim 3:16–17)

We began thinking about this last week, but primarily in terms of forming theological commitments.  How might such a commitment also affect Christian practice?  Walk into ten different churches in town and find a dozen different philosophies of ministry, and they disagree on marriage, divorce, sexuality, gender roles, Charismatic experiences, and other nuts-and-bolts questions affecting Christian life.   Some of this comes down to differing interpretations among Christians, but there is also the question as to how much they allow the Bible to direct their ministries. 

God has revealed how He wants us to worship and understand Him.  Consider just the following sampling:

       God accepted Abel’s but not Cain’s offering (Gn 4:3–8).
       God wouldn’t accept the unauthorized offering of Nadab and Abihu and killed them for it (Lv 10).
       Consider also how many of the man-made traditions in God’s name Jesus rejected (e.g., Mt 15:1–14).
       Paul condemns the “self-made religion” at Colossae (Col 2:23).

The more biblical evidence we examine, we must conclude that God despises experimental religion.  He doesn’t want us to try new ways of doing things; He doesn’t want us to innovate.  We don’t do something to shake things up on Sundays.  We certainly shouldn’t make changes in our preaching or music because we’re afraid of what people will say of us.  We may change locations, and we may advance in technology, but neither our means nor our message may change. 

Consider 2 Timothy 3:16–17, which says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”  This means that God’s written revelation teaches us what is right, the foundation for the Christian worldview, how we see reality around us.  This means that Holy Scripture teaches us what is wrong, reproving error and essential to understanding what is truly right in our lives.  This means God’s Word teaches us how to correct our paths and make something right.  The Bible is a gift beyond words, sufficient for all of life and godliness (2 Pt 1:3). 

We’ll see how the Bible affects our beliefs and practice more as we proceed today and next week.  When we talk about God’s Word directing all that we believe, though, one topic rises above the rest.  What do we believe about salvation? 

II.            We Affirm the Sovereignty of God in Salvation (Rm 8:28–30)

This point is clearly part of our statement of faith, and because we discussed it briefly last week, we won’t spend much time on it today.  We highlight it as a distinctive, though, because it affects how we counsel and worship.  If God is Lord of salvation, then we can trust in what He said concerning it. 

Our natural inclination is to believe that salvation is somehow based on us, but we undermine God’s sovereignty in doing so.  When we trust completely on Him for salvation, though, we trust Him to dealing with all our sins, past and future.  He’s removing them, as Psalm 103:12 says, “as far as east from west.”  As 1 John 1:7 says, His blood cleanses us from all sin.

This brings to mind Ephesians 2:8–9, which says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  God will not leave us room for boasting; He should receive all the glory!  The salvation that God provides is monergistic, worked by Him alone. 

Those who repent of sins can be confident that it was the work of God.  As such, we can finally find our rest in Him, allowing Him to direct everything else we believe and do.  In other words, He is Lord, which brings us to the next point.

III.         We Affirm the Lordship of Christ in Salvation (2 Cor 4:5)

A biblical ministry preaches Jesus as Lord; as Acts 2:21 says, everyone “who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  Yet, what people have come to call “Lordship salvation” is riddled with controversy.  To some, preaching Jesus’s Lordship seems to add to the gospel of grace we were just talking about.  Indeed, any teaching calling us to trust in our works should be rejected.  However, so should a view of salvation that says a person can be saved but continue to live unchanged, bearing no fruit in their lives.

The salvation God provides transforms our hearts to His will.  As 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  As such, sinners find ourselves stirred to belief and to good works, repenting and trusting in Christ by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, the new life that leads us to love God and obey His commandments. 

Think of it this way.  To believe that Jesus will save means to believe that 1) we’re sinners in need of saving, and 2) other “ways” of salvation won’t work.  In other words, true faith requires a repentance or a turning to God.  Back when we began studying the Book of Mark, we saw Jesus Himself preaching this; in Mark 1:15, He commands, “Y’all repent and y’all believe.”  It is not just a change in mind, but an intellectual, emotional, and volitional change in direction.  It is a change in how we view a beloved sin, how we feel about it, and how much longer we will tolerate it in our lives.  Such a radical reorientation of priorities and trust in sinful man must begin with the work of God, which is why believing in God’s sovereignty in salvation is so essential. 

So, we call sinners to repent and believe, but we pray for God to so move them.  Moreover, if God has so moved us, then we can know His gift of faith transforms our intellect, emotions, and will for God’s purposes.  That doesn’t mean that a person is born again fully mature to bear perfectly all the fruit of the Spirit — each of us must continuing growing in His grace.  Still, it’s His work of sanctification that matures us, the author and perfecter of our faith, generating good works He prepared beforehand (Eph 2:10).

We don’t need to “make Jesus Lord,” for He already is.  If that’s the case, again, that means He should direct all our worship, just as we were discussing earlier.  That brings us to the next point.   

IV.         We Affirm Biblical Worship for Our Services (1 Cor 14:26, 40)

We’re not talking about spiritual gifts yet, but it’s important to note now that Paul condemns the Corinthians’ use of them in this letter.  Their worship services were chaotic, with each Christian (well-meaning as they might be) doing whatever was right in their own eyes.  He charges them in v. 40 that “all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.”

How a church worships is, perhaps, the most visible distinctive to anyone entering it — and every church seems to have its own idea as to how this is to be done.  Most of us who have grown up in Evangelicalism have probably experienced what’s known as the normative principle of worship, a belief that our worship services include what God commands and whatever He doesn’t forbid.  That represents everything from a more traditional service to one that’s music-heavy and trendy. 

In contrast to that is the regulative principle of worship that we spoke of earlier.  The Bible gives some latitude in this regard, which is good, considering that (for example) not every church throughout history would have been able to utilize the exact same music styles.  However, one of the key points of the Reformation was that they were returning to the worship God commands in Scripture, as evidenced by the historical testimony of the ancient church — they weren’t making up their own, “European” style of worship (if there is such a thing).  Similarly, the Bible directs how our public worship should be conducted. 

In other words, we allow God’s Word to direct all the elements of worship.  There may be some question as to the circumstances of worship: hymnals vs. PowerPoint, homes vs. buildings, one hour vs. two., morning only or also evening services.  Even so, God told us what elements our worship must contain, leaving us no freedom to add to or subtract from it. 

First, you can expect prayer in our worship.  Corporate prayer was a key feature of the church after Pentecost (Acts 2:42) and exists throughout Scripture.  We pray invoking His grace to worship, we pray confessing our sin and thanking Him for His provision, we pray petitioning Him for our needs, we pray for the preaching and understanding of the biblical text, and finally, we pray a word of benediction for us all.

Second, you can expect the ordinances in our worship.  We cannot ignore our Lord’s command regarding these items.  He instituted a remembrance of His death (Mt 26:26-28; 1 Cor 11:23-26), and His Great Commission included the command to baptize (Mt 28:19).  Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper reminds us of the grace we receive in Christ, so though we don’t have these every week (though there would be nothing wrong with it if we did), they are a vital part of our regular, biblical worship.

Third, you can expect the Bible in our worship.  When Paul wrote to Timothy the last time, he said, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tm 4:1–2).  Earlier, Paul told Timothy to “give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (1 Tm 4:13).  That’s why we start and end our services with Scripture and have it all throughout. 

Fourth, you can expect music in our worship.  This can potentially become one of the more contentious issues in a church.  We’ve thought through much of what the Bible has to say about singing, and I encourage you to listen to our message on our distinctive on worship for more information.  In short, our singing is congregational, as found in the Hymns of Grace hymnal, and the musical accompaniment utilizes mainly traditional arrangements on piano, organ, or orchestra. 

The musical accompaniment is electronic right now, but that’s good because it’s also hidden.  In worshiping in song, we want to avoid having a group of musicians up front, as we believe that eliminates much of the pragmatism and man-centeredness found in modern worship settings.  There will, however, always be a pastor leading the music up front.  That’s because all music should be theologically accurate and commensurate with the work of the pulpit ministry.  As Psalm 119:54 says, “Your statutes are my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.”  You may recall the famous quote by Martin Luther, that music is “the handmaiden of theology and second only to theology.”  If worship music does not accurately reflect theology, it isn’t worship. 

So, when we meet to worship, we read Scripture, sing, and preach (1 Tm 4:13; 2 Tm 4:2; Eph 5:19; Col 3:16)—we don’t put on skits and performances, play clips from blockbuster movies, or give a baptized equivalent of a TED Talk.  We pray (cf. Mt 21:13) rather than be entertained.  We make disciples, baptize, and participate in the Lord’s supper (Mt 28:19; Acts 2:38–39; 1 Cor 11:23–26; Col 2:11–12), and do all of this without raffles, gimmicks, or experimentation.  We strive, however, to do all things decently and in order.

Having said that, it should be no surprise that we must also allow the Bible to direct our church government. 

V.            We Affirm the Biblical Model of Church Government (1 Tm 3:1–12)

We arrive at perhaps the least interesting but nonetheless contentious question, that of church government.  Even though some churches might come away with convictions differing from ours (and we should show them appropriate grace), we still strive to allow the whole council of God to develop our convictions on the subject.  What we find is that He established two offices for the church, described here in 1 Timothy 3 as overseers (vv. 1–7) and deacons (vv. 8–13). 

Scripture uses the terms elder, pastor, and overseer (or bishop) interchangeably (Acts 20:17,28; Tit 1:5,7; 1 Pt 5:1-2), so the overseers here in are elders or pastors.  We read about their qualifications here in vv. 1–7 and in Titus 3:5–9.  When we examine this and other passages on elders, we must conclude that churches should be governed by a plurality of biblically-qualified elders, ruling independently from others, dependently upon the grace and power of God, and subordinately to His Word and each other. 

Alongside come deacons, helping to serve the needs of the church, but who do not have ruling authority.  The biblical word simply refers to service or ministering to someone, usually in some material way.  While that is the task of all believers, including elders, God wants some in the church to specifically devote themselves to the “deaconing” task.  Interestingly, though, the Bible doesn’t specifically describe the duties of the deacon, perhaps because the ministerial needs will depend upon the individual church.

So, our conviction is that authority starts with the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word, applied faithfully through biblically-qualified elders, assisted in ministry by deacons, with all Christians bearing responsibility for their belief and conduct within the church.  Elders cannot lead without a congregation following, and deacons cannot serve unless there are people to serve, and that brings us to the next point.

VI.         We Affirm the Biblical Model of Church Membership (Hb 10:24–25)

We talked about the fact that God moves Christians to obedience, and yet this is perhaps one of the most ignored commands of God by Christians in America.  Some think that general commitment is important but not required of believers.  Others wouldn’t even go that far, only making it to church occasionally, attending whenever or wherever “the Spirit leads” (whatever that means).  Some might still call one church home, but they come only when there’s nothing else pressing like soccer games, etc.

God calls us to be committed members of a local church.   Christians automatically become members of the universal church (1 Cor 12:13), but locally, they must also receive instruction from Scripture (1 Tm 4:13; 2 Tm 4:2), serve one another (as we read in Hb 10:24-25), use their spiritual gifts (Rm 12:3-8; 1 Cor 12:4-31; 1 Pt 4:10-11), and participate in the church’s ordinances (Lk 22:19; Acts 2:38-42).  Moreover, elders must know their church member so they can shepherd them (Acts 20:28; 1 Pt 5:2) and give account for them (Hb 13:17; 1 Pt 5:3).

You should never think that church membership and involvement is optional.  It’s vital for the healthy operation of our church and your own spiritual life.  Of course, there may be times when God providentially hinders you from coming, like when you’re on a sickbed, but otherwise He calls you to be in church, receiving His grace and blessing others.  On the other hand, those who miss church cut themselves off from an avenue of God’s goodness and find their faith begins to flounder.  The longer you are away, the harder it will be to return, but if it’s a good church, you know you have people thinking about and praying for you.

Those not obeying the Lord may find themselves under the loving discipline of the Father.  That brings us to our last point for today:

VII.      We Affirm the Biblical Model of Church Discipline (Mt 18:15–20)

God wants us to live our lives submitting to church discipline.  While it can be misapplied, this command can be a means of God’s blessing.  It helps us deal with sin and resolve conflict in our church.  It gives us great assurance when solid brothers and sisters affirm our commitment to the Word, and we know they’ll come alongside of us if we unwittingly or purposefully drift from a commitment to Scripture.  The goal is both peacemaking and holiness within the church with the Lord’s blessing. 

There’s a clear process to this.  First, a person must properly consider himself and his motivations before approaching anyone (Gal 6:1), prayerfully examining himself, taking any responsibility for contributing to the problem (Mt 7:3-5).  Second, Jesus explains, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother” (v. 15).  Jesus continues with the next step:  “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed’ ” (v. 16). 

In the case of hard-hearted, unrepentant sin, Jesus says to “tell it to the church” (v. 17a).  We divide that into two stages here — the issue comes first before the elders who will then prepare the case for the congregation to hear.  If the elders find that the accused remains in sin, they must bring the rest of the congregation in on the issue, urging everyone to pray for the individual and call for his repentance.  The second half of v. 17 continues “if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”  In other words, the church will have to be informed that he’s still unrepentant and is now bound on earth by declaration to be an unbeliever (cf. vv. 18–20), one from whom we will have to sadly disfellowship. 

This is a grave process and isn’t a pleasant aspect of church life.  However, it is essential if the erring individual is ever going to be truly won to Christ and restored, and it’s an essential marker of church life.  When it’s properly practiced, the entire church is brought to a holy state of fearfulness (1 Tm 5:20).  We also testify to a watching world that we believe what we say about sin; otherwise, God’s name may be blasphemed because of us (cf. Rm 2:24).  So, may we be an unleavened people that judges with righteous and loving judgment.

VIII.   Conclusion

These are the first seven of our distinctives that we’ve sought to derive from Scripture.  Hopefully, this was a proper overview to help you understand the beliefs and practices that distinguish this church perhaps from others in Savannah.  If it is interesting, or if you want to follow up more on any one point, I hope you’ll go to our website and listen to the entire sermons on these topics.  You can also ask one of the elders for more information or clarification at any time.

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