(This is part one of a series entitled, “What God Requires of the Church.” The posts in this series include: 1. Individualism vs. Christ, 2. The Ordinary Means of Grace. 3. Participation. 4. Evangelism and Missions.)
We live in a time when God’s people are often very confused about what the church is and what it is supposed to do. What does it mean to be a devoted church member? What’s the role of the church in my walk with Christ? What should the church be doing? How do we know the answers to these questions? In today’s culture, many Christians have sought to give answers to the questions above based on personal ideals and preferences.
American Individualism and Consumerism
When Christians in our culture look for churches, they sometimes ask, “Does this church satisfy the needs of my life and family?,” “Do I feel like I’ve encountered God at this church?,” “Will this church help me achieve my goals?,” “Do I like the people at the church?,” “Does the church’s schedule fit with my personal schedule?,” “Did I feel moved by the worship music?,” and so on. Notice how each of these questions is centered on the individual, not on the Bible, or the community of faith.
Even more inexcusably, church leaders often design church ministries and programs with questions in mind that cater to this same Western individualistic mindset: “Will this program meet the felt needs of the people?,” “Have we successfully avoided things people don’t want?,” “What innovative methods can we design to keep people interested?,” “How many people will be attracted to this ministry?,” “Will this help us attract more people?,” and so on. By asking such questions, church leaders have perpetuated the problem of American individualism. They have fostered the idea that individual preferences should determine what is done in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, rather than Christ speaking through His Word.
Clearly, many Christians are asking the wrong questions about church. All of the above questions are about what people want, not what God wants. The questions of individualism and American consumerism make people the reigning authority in the church, rather than God Himself. The most important question we should all be asking is “What does God require of His churches in His Word?”
Paul wrote to Timothy in order to teach him what God requires in the church. Paul said, “I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:15, emphasis added). God wants us to consult His Word for answers about how the church is to conduct itself.
Christ’s Authority Over the Church
The church is not a democracy. It is a monarchy, ruled by the King (Rev 19:16). He divides His rule with no one. “None can stay His hand or say to Him ‘What have you done?'” (Dan 4:35) The Lord Jesus Christ is the church’s Sovereign, and He requires those in His kingdom to submit themselves to His revealed will in the Bible.
- Ephesians 1:22-23 says, “And He put all things under [Christ’s] feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all.”
- Philippians 2:9-11 says, “God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
- Colossians 1:1-17 says, “And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.”
This isn’t to say that people’s thoughts and feelings don’t matter. Christ’s good kingdom is also a family. Our thoughts and feelings matter because God is not only a King, but He’s also a Father. God the Father wants to persuade, comfort, and encourage all of His children by His promises of life in Christ. Our Father never runs roughshod over His children. Jesus says, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). But the thoughts and feelings of God’s children have no final ruling authority in Christ’s kingdom. Jesus alone is King. The Father alone has final authority. Church members, deacons, and pastors are all Christ’s subjects, bound to obey Him in faith, love, joy, and gratitude. The church, therefore, has no right authoritatively to require things Christ has not commanded or to neglect things that Christ has commanded.
In future posts, we’ll consider some of the things the Lord Jesus Christ clearly teaches the church should do.