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 are the agents of revelation by whom God speaks to His people. They delivered the Word of God. Another way of saying this is that the foundation of the church is the Word of God.
That's why we must pay close attention to our doctrine of Scripture. The attacks launched against the integrity, authority, sufficiency, and trustworthiness of Scripture are attacks not upon a side alcove of this building. They don't put a dent in the roof of the church. They're attacks on the church's very foundation. To have a church without Apostolic authority, without the Word of God as its foundation, is to build a church on sand rather than on rock. The foundation of the prophets and the Apostles is necessary for the entire edifice of the church to stand securely.
Paul continues the building metaphor in 2:20b: "Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone." Christ is the cornerstone, the point that holds the foundation together. Take out the cornerstone, and everything falls apart. "In [Christ] the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit" (vv. 21–22). The church is a new temple built in Christ, by Christ, and for Christ. Obviously, Paul isn't saying the church is a building made out of mortar and brick, but that we are the stones, the living stones, as 1 Peter 2:5 tells us. Each believer is part of this church just as each stone is part of a building. The church, the new temple, is still under construction. Every day, new stones are added. This new temple will not be finished until Jesus returns to consummate His kingdom. Christ is still building His church, not by adding cement but by adding people who are the stones that hold together in Him.
Paul continues in Ephesians 3:14–19,
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
The Apostle Paul explains the doctrine of the church so that we might understand what God has done and so that we may understand who we are. And in calling us to understand who we are and what we're called to do, Paul says that we're the church. We're the church that God ordained from the foundation of the world. We're His people; we're His household, so let the church be the church.
We're living in a time of crisis. Many Christians are decrying the decadence of American culture and complaining about the government and its value system. I understand that, but if we want to be concerned for our nation and culture, our priority must be the renewal of the church. We are the light of the world.
Government merely reflects and echoes the customs embraced by the people in a given generation. In a real sense, our government is exactly what we want it to be, or it wouldn't be there. Change in culture doesn't always come from the top down. It often comes from the bottom up. The change we need to work for, chiefly, is renewal within the church. As the church becomes the fellowship of citizens of heaven who manifest what it means to be the household of Christ, and when the church walks according to the power of the Holy Spirit—then the people of God will shine as the light of the world. When people see that light, they will give glory to God (Matt. 5:16). This will change the world. But Paul says, first of all, let the church be the church. We must remember who we are, who the foundation is, who the cornerstone is, who the head of our building is, who the Lord of the church is.
Do we love the church? I doubt if there have been many times in our history when there has been as much anger, hostility, disappointment, and disillusionment with the institutional church as there is today. It's hard not to be critical of the church because in many ways the church has failed us. But if the church has failed, that means we have failed. We are called to serve the church in the power of God the Holy Spirit.
We, the church, have been made for this task by the indwelling presence and power of God's Spirit. Yet, we are called not so much to rise up but to bow down. And if we bow down to our Lord, as Paul says in Ephesians 3:14, the church will be the church, and our light will pierce the darkness.
This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.
While the medieval universities embraced theology as the “Queen of the Sciences” that holds all learning together, the Renaissance sought to separate the study of creation from the knowledge of God. In this brief clip, R.C. Sproul connects this shift in thinking to our own day.
Today, watch the entire message for free.
The first challenge that came to the medieval synthesis, or what we call the classical synthesis, was the challenge brought by the Renaissance. In this were the initial movements that were going to (sooner or later) displace the medieval structure of the university. It was commonplace to think that the “Queen of all the Sciences” was theology, and philosophy was called her handmaiden. So, the theological faculty would be the dominant faculty of the entire university. And then, second in command was the department of philosophy. Well, as you know, today that’s not the way it is, and some radical changes were already starting to take place as a result of the impetus of the Renaissance. Also at this time, as part of the Renaissance mindset, was a challenge to teleology. I remember when I was a senior in college, I still had not yet taken my required course in freshman biology. The reason for that was scheduling. When I was a freshman, I took Greek, and the only time I could take Greek conflicted when courses were offered for what they called “bonehead biology”—Biology 101. So, I didn’t take it until I was a senior; I had been a philosophy major. I remember that the first day in class, the biology professor said something that disturbed me greatly. In her opening lecture, she said, “You must learn, if you’re going to be scientific and to engage in the pursuit of the knowledge of living things, you have to set aside any concerns of teleology.” I said, “Wait a minute! That's like telling me I can never ask the question, What is the purpose of these things that we’re studying?’” And I had real problems with that: philosophical problems and theological problems. What I didn’t realize was that she was merely reflecting an attitude towards science that had been deeply rooted already in the Renaissance. The Renaissance reacted against the medieval education’s “fixation” (they believed) on trying to interpret everything we learn in this world according to how it fit with the divine plan and the divine purpose. You think God was banished from the schoolroom only in the 20th century? But this challenge was that we are to study things for their own sake and not to be concerned with how they fit in with the ultimate purposes of God, and so on. This was a serious challenge to Christian thinking, because the Christian worldview was such that wanted to understand everything that we learn in light of its relationship to the purposes of God.
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So much of what we know about Jesus and His redeeming work is rooted in the Old Testament Scriptures. From one of our Ask Ligonier events, W. Robert Godfrey underscores the importance of studying the Old Testament for a fuller understanding of the Christian faith.
If you have a biblical or theological question, just visit ask.Ligonier.org to ask your question live online.
In 1734 and 1735, Jonathan Edwards and the congregation at Northampton experienced a revival. So did many other churches in the Connecticut River Valley in the colonies of Connecticut and Massachusetts. In the fall of 1733, Edwards preached some hard-hitting sermons. One of them, preached in November 1733, has been titled “The Kind of Preaching People Want.” Edwards starts his sermon in the Old Testament, observing that God’s people have had no shortage of false prophets, “that always flattered them in their sins.” True prophets rebuke the sinner. False prophets leave sinners “to the peaceable enjoyment of their sins.” He then turns to the desire that people in his own day had for such false prophets. Edwards continues, “If ministers were sent to tell the people that they might gratify their lusts without danger… how eagerly would they be listened to by some, and what good attention they would give.” He adds, “They would like a savior to save them in their sins much better than a savior to save them from their sins.”
Edwards was responding to those of his day who thought they knew better than the Word of God. He also wrote treatises to respond to the academics who thought they knew better than God’s Word. The English academic world of Edwards’ day was enthralled with the new thinking of the Enlightenment. The deists ruled. They believed that God created the world and then backed away, and now He lets it run along all on its own. They rejected the idea that God reveals His will in His Word. They rejected the doctrine of the incarnation and the deity of Christ. They rejected the possibility, let alone the actual occurrence, of miracles. They had “come of age.” The Enlightenment thinkers and the deists were far too sophisticated to submit to some ancient book.
The philosophers had affected the church. In 1727, a group of independent ministers met in London to debate the deity of Christ. These were the exact descendants of the stalwart Puritans of the 1600s. They voted on the deity of Christ, and the deity of Christ lost. These were men who should have known better. They capitulated to the whims of the day.
Edwards kept up with these developments. He was not a backwoods minister. He had the latest books and kept current with the latest ideas. He saw where these ideas would take the church in the American Colonies. He sounded the alarm. He also saw how his congregation could be so easily led astray by the wrong pursuits. He saw how worldliness crouched at the door, ready to overtake those who so willingly gave in.
So, he was not in a Puritan bubble. He responded to his culture and to his congregation. He preached sermons and he wrote books—all defending the Bible.
We are not historically situated at the dawn of the Enlightenment as Edwards was. We find our place at the Enlightenment’s setting sun. We live in the dawn of postmodernism. We live among those who reject the Bible. We live among those who give in to the clutches of worldliness. Sin crouches at our door too.
So what pastoral counsel did Edwards offer? He pointed his congregation to the Bible. He argued against the Enlightenment thinkers and against the deist theologians based on the Bible. He looked to the Word.
As Edwards noted, the Bible belongs to every age. It is not simply the true Word for the first century. It is not simply the authoritative Word for the first century. It is not simply the necessary Word for the first century. It is not simply the sufficient Word for the first century.
It is the true, authoritative, necessary, clear, and sufficient Word for all centuries, including the twenty-first. Theologians sometimes speak of these as the attributes of Scripture. As the attributes of God help us to learn about God, the attributes of Scripture help us learn about Scripture. The first and foremost attribute of Scripture is its authority. Scripture is authoritative. We again hear Peter Martyr Vermigli remind us that it all comes down to “Thus says the Lord.” If Scripture is the Word of God, it’s authoritative.
This excerpt is adapted from A Time for Confidence by Stephen Nichols
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