From: 1 Timothy 3:14-16
On: February 23, 2014 Lord’s Day Worship
By: Sean Higgins
The sermon starts at 16:50 in the audio file.
Or, The Propositions of Church Membership
In 1 Timothy 3 Paul provides the qualifications for certain offices in the church. He tells Timothy what to look for in an elder (verses 1-7) and what to look for in a deacon (verses 8-13). In the final paragraph Paul tells Timothy why he wrote about these things: so that he “may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God.”
A church has responsibility to recognize and affirm elders. This priority affects the universal church but applies to local ones. Timothy wasn’t asked to oversee the appointment of elders in Rome or Jerusalem but in Ephesus. The same goes for deacons. A local church is responsible to recognize and affirm deacons.
Paul provides qualifications for churches to recognize these types of men but he does not present a process in order for churches to affirm these men. He says to do it but he does not say how to do it. In fact, there are many times that in order to obey the Bible we must consider how the principle applies in our context. Modest is hottest, as the t-shirt says, but no verse tells us where to shop.
We have a process for recognizing and affirming elders here at TEC. The first time we did it included a few additional elements. We talked through the principles, explained the process, answered questions, posted it all on the website, and refer to it as elders and refer the flock to is so that they know what to expect from elders. Even though the process itself isn’t outlined in Scripture, very little resistance was offered against the process because an elders’ responsibility is significant (see Acts 20:28). It’s important to get and keep the right men in office.
The affirmation process is similar for deacons. They also have significant responsibility as they coordinate relief for physical needs. We talked, explained, answered, posted, and use that process, one which also included a few additional elements the first time through. The process attempts to apply the biblical priorities here in this local church.
The local church must recognize and affirm her elders, recognize and affirm her deacons, and the local church must recognize and affirm her members. How to do it is not specified in the New Testament, but that it must be done is. The first message in this series used the illustration of a foreign embassy from Jonathan Leeman’s book, Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus. A local church doesn’t make anyone a heavenly citizen, but every local church bears the responsibility to recognize and affirm heavenly citizens. Again, there is flexibility in how we do it, but we must do it somehow.
The first part of the process is confessional. That’s where Christ started with Peter. How a man answers the question: “Who is Jesus” makes the difference. Jesus asked, “Who do people say that I am?” It’s not enough to say that Jesus is a good man, not enough to say that He is a prophet (such as Jeremiah and John the Baptist), not even enough to say that He is a prophet who never died (such as Elijah). Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” On that confession of faith Jesus builds His church (Matthew 16:13-20).
Individuals must make the confession in order to be saved.
if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9–13, ESV)
Jesus Christ is Lord. He is God, He is man, He is the only mediator between God and man. He is Savior. Heavenly citizenship belongs with those who believe and obey the King of heaven.
These truths must be confessed by believers and confessed by the church. Consider the last paragraph in 1 Timothy 3 again.
the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.
(1 Timothy 3:15–16, ESV)
The church is a pillar and buttress of truth. Pillar would have brought an unmistakable picture to Timothy’s mind. The Temple of Artemis (a.k.a., Diana) was located in Ephesus where he was stationed and was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The structure measured 380 feet long by 180 feet wide and perhaps the most striking features were its 127, 60′ tall marble columns some of which were studded with jewels and overlaid with gold. More important than their appearance was their function: to support the structure.
Buttress is a word that refers to a brace or reinforcement that helps to guard and fortify. In other words, the church is called to defend the truth. Like battlements protect a town, so the church is to preserve and take care of the truth, making sure the truth doesn’t fall.
It is not merely the elders or individuals within the church who support and guard the truth, it is the work of the entire church. And it is possible for churches to utilize short summaries of that truth as verse 16 does. There are at least a few different “confessions of faith” in the NT (e.g., Colossians 1:15-20; Philippians 2:5-11; here). None of them are exactly the same, but they all seek to condense a confession of Christ’s lordship for the church to declare and defend.
The same thing has happened in church history. From the earliest centuries after Christ, the church prepared and promoted confessions (or creeds, from the Latin verb credo: “I believe”) of varying lengths with various emphases in order to proclaim and protect the truth.
Though not inspired (and never claiming to be), the language of these confessions clarified through affirmations and denials what the Bible teaches and what Christians believe. Men are slippery sinners and will say they agree but mean something different by the same words. Most false teachers use Bible words, so these additional statements can help to “instruct in sound doctrine and rebuke those on contradict it” (Titus 1:2).
We have a statement of “What We Believe” as a church. In the summer of 2011 we put it out for feedback and officially adopted it later in the summer. As the elders said at the time, we believed that a longer statement allowed for more clarity and more distinctions. That said, a frequent criticism was the size, printed at almost 60 pages with all the proof-texts footnoted.
Even then, and for now almost three years since then, I’ve had the task of drafting a shorter statement to go along with it. Though we do ask the elders and deacons to fully affirm the entire statement, we’ve never thought that a regular worshipper (or member) needed to fully affirm every jot and tittle in order to belong. The larger document describes our position on a variety of doctrines. As we approached this time of a more defined membership, it seemed appropriate to produce a shorter statement, written and hashed out by all the elders.
This morning I’d like to present “What We Believe in Brief” and then answer four questions about it.
We are a local congregation of Christian disciples called Trinity Evangel Church. All three parts of our name embody both a summary of our doctrinal commitments and the essential responsibilities of our life together.
We believe in God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. He revealed Himself as one God in three infinitely excellent and loving Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each Person of the Trinity is fully, simultaneously, and eternally God, united in one purpose. God is supremely joyful as He relates in the fellowship of the Trinity. From the fullness of His grace He created all things and ordains all things for His glory, revealing Himself in the world and in His Word. The Bible, consisting of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, is the infallible Word of God, verbally inspired by God, and the final authority of truth.
We believe that God made man in His image to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. God formed men, both male and female, from conception, to bear His image in relationships, with Him and others, as well as in terrestrial responsibilities. God mandated that humans obey Him and reflect Him by multiplying (in marriage between one man and one woman, followed by childbearing and parenting), and by taking dominion over the earth (creating and stewarding things on earth as persons in community).
We believe that the first man, Adam, although created morally upright, disobeyed God in the garden. Because of his sin God judged mankind with death, immediate spiritual death, eventual physical death, and ultimately eternal death. All men are guilty in Adam, corrupt in nature, and unable to desire God, delight in God, or obey Him. Though no man sins as much as he could, neither can any man do anything other than sin apart from God. Therefore, every man deserves God’s righteous wrath in death.
We believe that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, eternally begotten of the Father, being of one substance with the Father, Jesus Christ our Lord. By the power of the Holy Spirit the Son became incarnate from the virgin Mary; now recognized in two natures, truly God and truly man, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation. For our sake and in every respect He was tempted as we are, lived in perfect obedience to God’s law, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, died, and was buried. On the third day He rose again in accordance with the Scriptures for the forgiveness of sins. This is the good news, the evangel.
We believe that all people who repent from their sins, who trust in His sacrifice, and who confess Jesus Christ as Lord are saved to eternal life. We are declared righteous by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, reconciled to fellowship with God. The fruit of obedience inevitably grows from those with living faith. Disciples obey the Lord in baptism and are transformed into Christlikeness as they behold His glory. Disciples proclaim the gospel to their neighbors and practice the gospel by dying to bring life, forgiving one another, and hoping in all of God’s promises.
We believe in the holy catholic church consisting of true believers from every generation, from every tribe, language, people, and nation, both male and female, young and old. The Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, regenerates and baptizes God’s children into one Body with Christ Himself as the Head. The household of God is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth. The Lord will return to earth physically in power and great glory to receive His Bride, raise the dead, judge the nations, and establish His kingdom.
We believe that this local church is an expression of the universal Body of Christ, consisting of qualified elders/pastors, deacons, and baptized members. We proclaim Christ as Lord and practice the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We assemble each Lord’s day to worship as the communion of saints and to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. We hold each other accountable in obedience of faith through Biblical discipline. We affirm that the Holy Spirit gifts each member for the building up of the whole and that the pastors equip the saints for the work of the ministry until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God. We continue Christ’s commission to make disciples of all nations and for the sake of following generations. We trust that God is building His church by His Word and causes believers to persevere unto bodily resurrection and a heavenly inheritance, to the praise of His glorious grace. Amen.
Here are four questions about the Brief with brief answers.
Many of the words and phrases are taken directly from verses in the Bible. Also, in order to connect with critical confessions of faith in church history, the Brief intentionally borrows words and whole phrases from the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Definition of Chalcedon. It also includes the answer from the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. And it also intentionally uses words and whole phrases from our larger “What We Believe” statement as well. There should be nothing new in the Brief even though many things are said differently or more succinctly.
Christians are called to clarify their confession amidst certain challenges and conflicts. We are doing the same thing by going against a modern tendency to chronological snobbery (thinking we know everything better), and by adding some phrases related to the image of God in womb and in marriage between one man and one woman. For centuries those truths could be assumed in the church, but not today.
We have tried to write a statement that any and every true Christian living at any time in any place could agree with. This doesn’t mean that every Christian would want to, but they could. Therefore, in itself, this statement does not intend to exclude those with Covanentalist/Post or A-Mill eschatology, Arminians, Charismatics, or old-earthers. While is not paedo-baptist friendly, we do believe they are Christians.
The Brief does intend to exclude non-Christians by false teaching and by certain disobedient practices. Those who should not be able to affirm this statement are: Polytheists (who don’t believe in one God), Unitarians (who don’t believe in the Triune God such as Jews, Mormons, Muslims), Modalists (who don’t believe all three Persons always exist at the same time), Arians (those who don’t believe Jesus was truly God), Gnostics (those who don’t believe Jesus was truly human), Roman Catholics (those who don’t believe in salvation by faith alone through grace alone), and homosexuals.
If we, as a church, bear responsibility to affirm heavenly citizenship, then the initial confession will be a bit more broad, and also more messy.
Though the Big statement also includes behavior alongside belief, it is somewhat unique to have so much about our confession of faith and the expected conduct of those with faith. We believe that this is important because the Bible itself requires hearing and doing the Word (James 1:22-25) and describes the “knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness” (Titus 1:1). We’re also aware of many in the truth-tube camp who define great truths and undermine those truths by their disobedience. For example, a man should not preach about forgiveness without also practicing forgiveness. So in order to connect the content of truth with the consequences of truth, the Brief offers both orthodoxy and orthopraxy, usually in separate paragraphs.
This also removes the need for an additional church “covenant,” or rather, this is the covenant. The final paragraph under the CHURCH heading becomes the statement of expectations for members. Most of those statements come directly from New Testament passages that describe or require certain conduct in the Christian community. To agree with the confession about the nature of Christ is to agree with the commands of Christ (Matthew 28:28).
This will not replace the larger statement; it means to complement it, or maybe better, to introduce it. Every Christian should be able to affirm the Brief, every Christian should also then be encouraged to grow in his or her understanding, and every elder at TEC should be able to affirm the Big statement at least. In other words, the Brief provides a starting point and the Big points the direction and provides a minimum for church officials.
Many of the early creeds were initiating documents used to clarify a man’s profession as he prepared for his confession of faith through baptism. Likewise, the Brief will be part of the process to be baptized at TEC and the first part of affirming/transferring membership for those who were baptized somewhere else. So the Brief is only the beginning, and that’s good because every disciple of Christ begins somewhere.
The Brief incorporates the grand narrative of the Bible: Creation, Fall, Redemption. It also covers the nature and purpose of God, the person and work of Christ, the purpose for and problem with man, and the identity and mission of Christ’s Bride.
Feel free to give feedback on the Brief as you did with the Big. We worked hard and yet worked without tuning into any inspired channel. Is something wrong? Unclear? Missing? Excessive? Read and reread, talk about it with others, and let us know what you think.
We are the people of God, who know and must uphold the truth of God, about the glorious Son of God. We have a lot to live for, a lot to live up to. We are the church of the living God and our confession of hope about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit helps us to recognize and affirm her members.
Why is it so important to meet together? One reason is because we lose hope so easily. Our love grows cold, our good works get lazy, and we need encouragement. We get together to repeat the sounding joy in the confession of our hope. We need to hold up Christ, hold on, hold tight, because He who promised is faithful.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23–25, ESV)