What Kingdom Story Are We Telling?

Kevin DeYoung: We can’t tell the story of the Bible in all its fullness without talking about the kingdom. Not only does Jesus make the kingdom a central theme in his teaching, we also see the importance of the kingdom in Acts and in Paul. And the whole concept, of course, has its roots in the Old Testament, in God’s kingship over his people and in Israel’s own kingly office. In other words, the kingdom–predicted, coming, and already here–is essential to the storyline of Scripture. But the kingdom of God is not just one thing in the Bible. We will obscure the storyline of Scripture more than illuminate it if we fail to make distinctions in our kingdom language. Likewise, we can miss the big story of what God means to do in our world if we misunderstand how the different aspects of the kingdom fit together. In classic Reformed theology, Christ’s kingdom is distinguished in three ways. First, there

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What Does It Really Mean to Be the Salt of the Earth?

Andrew Wilson: “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” (Matt. 5:13) Few things in creation are more ordinary than salt. Most of us have interacted with it in the last couple of hours, whether we realize it or not. We use it to make leather, pottery, soap, detergents, rubber, clothes, paper, cleaning products, glass, plastics, and pharmaceuticals. It sits largely unnoticed on hundreds of millions of café and restaurant tables around the world. Unlike pepper, which is often sitting next to it, salt is essential for our health and has always been eaten by human beings wherever we have settled. We add it to so much of our food that many languages simply distinguish between sweet and salty flavors. We spread it across roads when it snows. More than half

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Do You Love the Church?

R.C. Sproul: Paul gives great attention to ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church, in his letter to the Ephesians. In fact, we could say Ephesians answers this question: What is the church? In Ephesians 2:19–22, the chief metaphor Paul uses is that of a building—the household of God. Christians are part of the household in the sense that they have been adopted into the family of God, which is another image that Scripture uses to describe the church. But here the accent is not so much on the family of the household as it is on the house of the household: “[We] are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (vv. 19–20a). Paul says the foundation of this building called the church is made up of the prophets and the Apostles, that is, the Old Testament prophets and New Testament Apostles. Why? It’s because the prophets and Apostles

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Do You Love the Church?

R.C. Sproul: Paul gives great attention to ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church, in his letter to the Ephesians. In fact, we could say Ephesians answers this question: What is the church? In Ephesians 2:19–22, the chief metaphor Paul uses is that of a building—the household of God. Christians are part of the household in the sense that they have been adopted into the family of God, which is another image that Scripture uses to describe the church. But here the accent is not so much on the family of the household as it is on the house of the household: “[We] are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (vv. 19–20a). Paul says the foundation of this building called the church is made up of the prophets and the Apostles, that is, the Old Testament prophets and New Testament Apostles. Why? It’s because the prophets and Apostles

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The Gospel is Big Enough for Your Church

Adam McClendon: Herman Bavinck said the big question in religion comes down to this: what must we do to be saved? How we answer that question, of course, determines the kind of religion we have. We can answer it any number of ways. We have no lack of religions. Some say we’re saved by our good works. Some say by our lack of bad works. Others strive for an enlightened state. Yet more sacrifice to appease the wrath of the gods, crossing their fingers it’s enough by the last breath. Still others (the right ones, I believe) put their full hope in a Savior. Just as we answer the all-important question individually, we also do so corporately. In fact, that’s what the church is. Every church is answering the question. And the question we must ask of every church is what is their answer? In other words, every church has something at the center. Something driving the gatherings, the activities,

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What Does ‘This Rock’ Refer to in Matthew 16:18?

Gregg R. Allison: Few verses have caused more controversy than Matthew 16:18, where Jesus says, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” It has led to disagreement over the proper type of church government, the role of the pope (along with papal infallibility), apostolic succession, and more. In context, Jesus probes his disciples for what the general public thinks about the identity of “the Son of Man” (v. 13). Their response indicates the breadth of the popular understanding of Jesus: he is John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or another prophet (v. 14). So Jesus redirects his probe: “But who do you [plural = the disciples] say I am?” (v. 15). Peter responds for the Twelve: Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, God the Son incarnate (v. 16). Jesus approves Peter for rightly identifying him, underscoring that his disciple didn’t humanly figure out this

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Why The Church?

H.B. Charles Jr.: “Unchurched Christian” is not a biblical category. Ask Paul, John, or Peter what they think about unchurched Christians and they would have responded, “Why are you calling them Christians if they are not a part of the church?” The New Testament does not have a vision of the Christian life outside of the church, the local church. But there are many professing Christians today who seek to be committed to Christ with no commitment to the church. They do not believe in organized religion. They claim the church is full of hypocrites. They have experienced church hurt. They cannot find a faithful, biblical church. They do not find the church necessary, supportive, or beneficial. So they follow Christ but forsake the church. It is wrong. It is unbiblical. It is non-Christian. You cannot have a high view of Christ and a low view of the church at the same time. Jesus declared, “On this rock I will

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What Does the Church Most Need Today?

W. Robert Godfrey: What does the church most need today? In answering this important but rather general question, Psalm 81 is uniquely important and helpful. This psalm obviously contains beautiful promises and clear directions to help the people of God. But careful study of this psalm will deepen our appreciation of it, increase its value for us, and show us how distinctive it is for helping the church. As we study psalms, we soon learn that the central verse of a psalm is often significant as a key to its interpretation. The central line of Psalm 81 is the heart of that psalm, as the plaintive cry of God is heard: “O Israel, if you would but listen to me!” (v. 8b). The center of Psalm 81—indeed the whole psalm—is a reflection on the Shema. The centrality of this line and its importance are underscored when we recognize that Psalm 81 is the central psalm of Book 3 of the Psalter. Book

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Pursuing True Unity

Grant Castleberry: There is something transcendently unifying when a group is engaged together in a singular, heroic cause. For instance, historians have often highlighted the camaraderie and esprit de corps they have found among the members of the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps embodies, perhaps more than anything else in American public life, a brotherhood–forged in the forest of Belleau Wood, on the sands of Iwo Jima, through the bitter cold of Chosin Reservoir, and in the streets of Fallujah. The Marine Corps represents an ethos which has gripped the American imagination since our nation’s inception. And that ethos centers around the fact that Marines fight America’s toughest battles. When I entered the Corps in 2007, it was at the height of our involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan War. As Marines we shared a common enemy and a common mission and our success depended on our unity as Marines. In this war-time environment, it was normal for Marines from

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What Is the Church?

Derek Thomas: In the language of the Westminster Confession of Faith, the church comprises the “whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be, gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof” (25.1). This is otherwise known as the invisible church. In another sense, the church is the body of the faithful (1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 2:21–22; Rev. 21:2, 9), consisting of those throughout the world who outwardly profess faith, together with their children (WCF 25.2). This is otherwise known as the visible church. The Greek word that is translated as “church” in the Bible is ekklēsia. Conscious as we should be of the etymological fallacy (the idea that a word means what its composite root means), in this case it would seem to have merit. Thus, ekklēsia translates the Hebrew word qahal, the noun form meaning “assembly” or “congregation” and the verb essentially signifying “to call.” Often in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word qahal is translated synagōgē. Common to both Hebrew and Greek words is

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What Is the “Church”?

Justin Taylor: Gregg Allison, professor of Christian theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, provides the following definition of the church his book, Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church, Foundations of Evangelical Theology, ed. John Feinberg (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 29–30. [Bullets, brackets, italics, and formatting are mine.] The church is: the people of God who have been saved through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and have been incorporated into his body through baptism with the Holy Spirit. It consists of two interrelated elements: [1] The universal church is the fellowship of all Christians that extends from the day of Pentecost until the second coming, incorporating both the deceased believers who are presently in heaven and the living believers from all over the world. This universal church becomes manifested in local churches characterized by seven attributes: [Origin and Orientation] doxological oriented to the glory of God logocentric centered on the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, and the inspired Word of God, Scripture

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10 Things You Should Know About the Church

Sam Storms: It’s both amazing and deeply distressing that I continue to hear of people who are supposedly “in love with Jesus” but not with the church. “We like you, Jesus, but we don’t care for your wife!” Really? The so-called “organized” church is for some reason offensive to them. Does the NT support such a notion? Is it possible for someone to be a Christian and remain opposed to his Bride, the church? I hope these ten truths about the church will forever put that misguided idea to rest. (1) The church is the primary means by which or through which God makes known the glory of his saving wisdom. We read this in Ephesians 3:10 – “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10). God’s ultimate aim is that his own “manifold wisdom” might be made known “through the church”. The

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What’s the Purpose of the Church?

Tim Challies: Whatever else we may know about Christians, we know this: Christians are supposed to go to church. Every Sunday, Christians gather together to worship God and spend time in fellowship. But do we actually know why we do this? Do we pause to consider the purpose of the local church? In this series of articles we are considering the purpose of many things we may take for granted, and so far we have looked at marriage, sex, and children. Today we are broadening our perspective from family to the church. It is important to note that our concern here is not the universal church, which is comprised of all Christians of all times and places. Rather, we are answering the question: What is the purpose of the local church? In other words, why do we as Christians gather together in local congregations? Common Views of The Church As we consider why we gather week by week, we can

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Ask J.I. Packer: What is Your Hope for the Church?

Adapted from “Interview with J.I. Packer,” Modern Reformation July/Aug 1993. I see evangelical strength in America needing desperately to be undergirded by Reformation convictions, otherwise, the numeric growth of evangelicals, which has been such a striking thing in our time, is likely never to become a real power, morally and spiritually, in the community that it ought to be. I mean by Reformation truth, a God-centered way of thinking, an appreciation of his sovereignty, an appreciation of how radical the damage of sin is to the human condition and community, and with that, an appreciation of just how radical and transforming is the power of the Lord Jesus Christ in his saving grace. If you don’t see deep into the problem, you don’t see deep into the solution. My fear is that a lot of evangelicals today are just not seeing deep enough in both the problem and the need. But Reformation theology takes you down to the very depth

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What Is This Thing Called Church?

Bernard N. Howard: In 2004 the Church of England began its first internet church: i-church.org. It still exists today, with a pastor and members who interact with one another online. But is it really a church? Many churches in America are made up of multiple campuses, but from a biblical point of view, is it possible for one church to be located in numerous places? These questions are more than theological teasers; they have real significance for God’s people. Darren Carlson, president of Training Leaders International, recently observed, “The greatest problem in missions right now is disagreement over what constitutes a local church.” That’s not a small statement. Clearly we need to think with care about what a church is. Dictionary Definitions The English word “church” has a number of meanings, most of which are religious. But the Greek word ekklesia—the Bible word translated “church”—is different. Non-Christians in the first century wouldn’t have thought of it as a religious word. To them it simply meant “a

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What We Need to Learn from the Early Church

Tim Keller: Many say that Christians who maintain the historic, traditional doctrines are behind the times, are too exclusive, and are “on the wrong side of history.” Two recent books that cast doubt on this view are from historian and biblical scholar Larry Hurtado: Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World and Why on Earth Did Anyone Become a Christian in the First Three Centuries?. The earliest Christians were widely ridiculed, especially by cultural elites, were excluded from circles of influence and business, and were often persecuted and put to death. Hurtado says Roman authorities were uniquely hostile to them, compared to other religious groups. Why? It was expected that people would have their own gods, but that they’d be willing to show honor to all other gods as well. Nearly every home, every city, every professional guild—including the empire itself—each had its own gods. You couldn’t even go to a meal in a large home or to a public event without being expected to

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Martin Luther’s 7 Characteristics of the Church

W. Robert Godfrey: The Word “First, the holy Christian people are recognized by their possession of the holy word of God.” Martin Luther always returned to the foundational importance of the Scriptures and the gospel in his approach to any doctrinal question. The church must have and cherish the revelation of God. “And even if there were no other sign than this alone, it would still suffice to prove that a Christian, holy people must exist there, for God’s word cannot be without God’s people, and conversely, God’s people cannot be without God’s word.” Baptism “Second, God’s people or the Christian holy people are recognized by the holy sacrament of baptism, wherever it is taught, believed, and administered correctly according to Christ’s ordinance.” The church possessed and administered the sacrament of baptism as taught in the Bible, a visible expression of the gospel. The Lord’s Supper “Third, God’s people, or Christian holy people, are recognized by the holy sacrament of the altar, wherever it

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Power of the Gospel

Darin Smith: Where is the power for the church today? Clearly, if this month proves anything, it proves that it does not find its power in politics. We must discard the budding belief that power politics are what it is all about.  I’ve been reminded lately that politics and political parties aren’t where Christ-followers look for hope. Instead, I am thankful that we have an all-sovereign, all-powerful King to find hope in times such as these. Romans 1:16 says that “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Practically, in today’s modern church landscape, what does this means for us if politics aren’t the answer? Here are nine brief reminders for us: 1. We need to stop trying to make the Gospel relevant—it’s always relevant. To center on and proclaim the Gospel is to be as relevant and powerful as the apostolic early church (Rom. 1:4). The Gospel doesn’t need you. The Gospel doesn’t need bright

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Can We Be Saved Without the Church?

. Andrew Wilson: . Extra ecclesiam nulla salus, said Cyprian of Carthage: “Outside of the Church, there is no salvation.” Even more provocatively: “he cannot have God as Father who doesn’t have the Church as Mother.” Emphatic stuff. I’ve just finished Marcus Peter Johnson’s One With Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation, and somewhat surprisingly (and refreshingly) he concludes his survey with a chapter on the church, probing exactly this issue. Was Cyprian right? Can we be saved without the Church? No. Johnson says this for three reasons: The first reason … is that the proclamation of the gospel, the good news of salvation, is intimately bound up with the proclamation of the church. To proclaim the mystery of Christ includes the proclamation of the mystery of the church [he then cites and summarises Gal 3:26-28; Eph 3:1-12; 5:31-32; 1 Cor 6:15]. Our union with Christ provides a second reason … It is important to point out that the Protestant

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Why the Church Is Vitally Important for Every Christian

  This post by Stephen J. Nichols is adapted from the ESV Student Study Bible. What Does the Bible Have to Say about the Church? Mention the church to a group of Christians and you are likely to get a mixed response. Some might say that, while they do love Jesus, they don’t love the church. Others might respond, “Of course we love the church.” God has ordained the church, a fellowship of the flawed, to carry out his purpose and will in the world. When we consider the biblical teaching on the church, we realize the church is vitally important for growing in Christ. Like a branch that grows because of its connection to the tree, we thrive when we stay connected to the church. To explore this issue, it is necessary to consider what the Bible says about the church. The Church in the Bible: Old Testament Life and Worship Before we can look at what the New

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