Wednesday Morning: Mark Dever -- "The Sufficiency of the Bible about the Local Church"

After singing "How Firm a Foundation" and listening to another testimony from Jamie, a Bostonian who is a pastoral intern at Dever's church, Mark was given the pulpit.  These notes are not a transcript but highlights of the message from my perspective.

Introduction:

  • Could anything that two Bible-believing Christians disagree about be unimportant?
  • What should we do when we meet together? Does God care?
  • How should we make decisions in our church? Should we have members? Or is that too exclusive?
  • Over the centuries, Christians have generally made decisions by wisdom and prudence. For most today, it is just pragmatism.
  • How do we contextualize our message? What works best?
  • What will help us reach the most people? Extend our influence?
  • What about church polity? This is important but rarely addressed.
  • Not like last night, today will be more like an hour-long sword drill.

Assumptions:

  • The Gospel has to come from us from outside ourselves.
  • The truth of Christ is the means God uses to reconcile ourselves to Him.
  • John 17:20; 10:44; 11:14; Rom. 10:17, the Bible is our lifeline, our feast. When we gather on Sunday morning, we gather around God’s Word.
  • 2 Tim 3:16-4:2, my goal is this kind of careful instruction. You don’t have to agree with me on everything we will talk about this morning, unlike the Gospel.
  • What is the local church to be and do? – the question for this morning.
  • Life and doctrine, worship and polity—the Scripture teaches us about these things.  When I say that, I am against conservative evangelicals.  Most CE don’t believe the Bible teaches us about these things. Most of my allies in Protestantism are dead. This is what Protestants used to think.  The Gospel is connected to the church. But in our wrong essentialism, we have decided that only if something is essential for salvation, it is important.  That is against the Bible.
  • We may not agree on some of the specifics, but I want you to feel bad if you disagree with the way I am approaching the subject.  This is the Christian way to approach this question.
  • Our form is to find God’s will in His Word.

Questions:

1. What shall we do? – the answer is in the Bible.

2. What shall we believe? – the answer is in the Bible.

3. How shall we worship? – the answer is in the Bible.

  • We read, sing, pray, and preach the Bible.
  • Creativity and innovation is not what worship in the Bible is all about.
  • We are commanded to regularly gather to worship God. (Heb. 10:25)
  • One of the things that separated God from the false gods of the OT is that the false gods were mute.  You had to make up how to worship them.  The true God spoke, told His people how to approach Him (Isa. 29:13; Mark 7, Jesus quotes Isaiah in dealing with false teachers)
  • We need God’s self-revelation or we are lost.
  • Everything we do then in our churches, we should intend to do in obedience to God’s Word.
  • All this brings me to our main question:

4. How shall we live together as a local church? The question of polity or organization in the local church.  Did the church start out charismatic in Acts and end up more Presbyterian by the end of the epistles? Or, are the dead people right? Is there a consistent pattern in the NT that we are to follow? God tells us how to function. He created the church. The answer is in the Bible.

  • According to the NH Confession of faith, a church is…
  • Westminster Confession, ch. 1, “regulative principle.”
  • Objections: Many people would say that the Bible doesn't address these issues.  But let me ask "What would you do if there were teaching on this subject in the Bible?" Many are cautious here.  The Scripture may be sufficient w/o being specific. However, in regard to polity, God does care about this. Some may say, “It’s just not important.  Why would you burn up a session on this?” I think we are impatient with anything that’s non-essential.  But there are matters of real importance that are not essential for salvation.  These commands are not arbitrary.  They bear real fruit in our lives and the lives of others.  For some, this is crucial for survival. “Nobody teaches on this.” This is untrue. This is why whole denominations have formed.  New England was founded over polity. Baptists have always understood this.
  • Who is the church? The members comprise the church. (2 Cor. 2:6; 1 Cor. 5) Paul is writing to the church and getting to them about tolerating sin. Matt. 18, discipline draws a circle around the membership of the church.  That’s why regenerate church membership is so important.  They are necessary distinct from the world. Churches who do not practice formal discipline are, at least, making it more difficult for believers to follow Christ.  Heb. 13:17; James 3:1, also makes it difficult for elders.  There is an awesome accountability in leading a church. I think this is so important that I want to push a little here. Churches that practice no self-conscious membership are in sin.  If Christians don’t know this, it’s not their fault; it’s pastors’ fault.  We need to teach this to our members.
  • Who is responsible for the local church? The answer is the congregation.
    • Is doctrinal discernment the pastors’ job? Yes, but it is also the congregation’s job. Gal. 1:6-10, written to congregation, not pastors.  Paul was severe with them.  They can rid of us; we don’t get rid of them. We can try (tongue in cheek).  They have sufficient biblical mind if they are born again to smell the real Gospel. They are responsible, even over an apostle.  The Gospel trumps any claim to apostolic authority. 2 Tim. 4:3, Paul is attacking the people who pay the preachers of itching ears, not the preachers themselves. This final responsibility of the congregation need not undermind the elders’ authority.  They can and should normally submit to their elders. 
  • Do we have to meet together? Yes. There should be a single service that the members are normally asked to attend together. Vision, budget, leadership, board—is that what a church is? Some would say yes. John Piper would say that. Is that sufficient? In what sense can we be a church that never gathers together? In Acts, we see numerous examples of churches meeting together.  The church is more than an assembly, but in the NT the church does not exist without assembling together (Heb. 10:25). Today, however, practice seems to be leading principle. Many leaders, even in large Baptist church, have exchanged assembly for shared leadership. I don’t mean to speak ill, but the PCA is not a church, it’s an assembly.  The United Methodist Church is not a church, it contains churches.  The SBC is not a church; it’s a parachurch organization.  A church is a local assembly of believers. 1 John 4:20, we have to love those who are around us.
  • Should we have multiple leaders? With all due respect to those who disagree, I think the Bible teaches a plurality of elders in the NT as the norm.
    • 1 Cor. 14:33b, Acts 20—Ephesians, Phil. 1:1, this is a consistent pattern.
    • Should we feel at liberty to change this pattern?

Application:

  • Can we be flexible? Yes. Times, committees, SS, task-specific deacons, etc.
  • Does lacking any of these things mean that a church is not a church? Churches that preach the true Gospel are churches; those who don’t, aren’t.  Those who don’t follow the biblical patterns are irregular, but still churches.
  • Should we fellowship with those who disagree? If they have the Gospel, we should. We are to be kind to brothers/sisters who are in error. 2 Cor. 8, meat was an important issue but it was an issue that could be disagreed on within the church.
  • Why do some people see more about polity in the Bible than others see? I don’t know. There are things that are hard to understand. Some may give more careful attention. They’ve been shown things by another or read older writers. Often when we argue, we calcify our opponents. That’s why I learn from Socrates and try to raise questions rather than argue.
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