The Distinct Church
[1 Pet. 2:9]
A. It seems more and more nowadays, churches are making efforts to appeal to a broader and larger audience, striving to make themselves more acceptable to outsiders so they will want to be a part of their group. Now, there is nothing wrong with wanting unbelievers to become a part of the family of believers and there is certainly nothing wrong with wanting outsiders to come and be part of those who worship God from the heart. But in this effort to find a new way to bring these people into the assembly, many churches have thrown away the old appeals based on the Scripture alone, and are using anything and everything possible to attract an audience; they are no longer a church based on the word of God, but an assembly of people gathered together because of entertainment, food, or child care. If there wasn't enough confusion before about "which church is right," it is now made more difficult in that they are beginning to look alike in the way they attract others to come to them.
B. In this rush to try to attract the biggest crowd, many are willing to give up the things that make the church distinct and "be like all the nations." But God has always demanded that His people be separate distinct from the world; God has always wanted those who are His to not look like the world, to not live like the world, and to not use the same appeals of the world in our efforts to try to draw them into the body of believers. The apostle Peter called the believers of his day "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people." (1 Pet. 2:9) They were different. They were distinct. They were not like the world.
By definition, distinct means 1. distinguished as not being the same; not identical; separate. 2. different in nature or quality; dissimilar. What we are talking about is the quality of being unlike the world separate from it. But it also demands that the true church for which Christ died must be different in nature or quality from those who falsely claim that they are a part of His church. The true church must be readily perceived as not like mere denominations and organizations not founded upon the same truths and doctrines of God's word.
C. So let us take a few minutes today and note The Distinct Church and what makes it different. Let us also note why it should be different. If God demanded His people be distinct, we should know why He demands such, and in what ways we are to be different. From what do we separate ourselves? What makes the true church of our Lord different than the world and different than a mere denomination? It is one thing to know that we are to be different, but it is something else to understand what we are to be. We should not be like the world, but what should we be like? Let us look at The Distinct Church a church with a distinct head, a distinct people, a distinct doctrine, and a distinct purpose. These things combined make the church for which Christ died a Distinct Church.
I. A DISTINCT HEAD
A. Those of the World.
1. Those who are not followers of God's word recognize no one as their head except themselves. They are their own lord and king, their own decision-maker, and the only rule that guides them is their own desire. Those of the world do not recognize Christ as their head, though He has been given the position "far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named." (Eph. 1:21) The apostle Paul described these as "enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is their shame who set their mind on earthly things." (Phlp. 3:18-19)
2. This is to be expected, though, since they have not submitted themselves to the will of God. Failing to recognize the power and authority of God, they must make their decisions based on something other than His will and their own personal desires are the standard. And when everyone has the right to set their own standards, there is no one standard by which all are judged, for everyone's standard is different. Those who live by such a rule will reject any and every attempt to establish or enforce an absolute and equitable standard by which all must live. Everyone is their own god and the individual is the highest authority.
B. The Denominational Church.
1. As much as they may say that Christ is the head of their individual churches (denominations), it simply cannot be so. The creeds and catechisms betray their own words.
a. One denomination demands that a single man, voted into office by other men, should serve as the head of the church in place of Christ while He is not here. This is not accepted by any other denomination, but many in the world believe this man is the head of the NT church. [The head of the church is the pope.]
b. Another so-called Christian denomination states that no one will even have the possibility of entering God's eternal kingdom without the approval of its founder (who is not Christ). No other denomination accepts this teaching, though. [The head of the church is Joseph Smith.]
c. And yet another so-called Christian denomination teaches that a panel of individuals living in New York are the sole determinants of what is authorized in the church. No other denomination accepts this teaching, though. [The head of the church is the Watchtower Society.]
d. And note the following comments about the necessity of creeds from three different denominations:
"The topic of creeds has been treated well by many writers, both Protestant and otherwise. The argument is basically this: creeds are necessary because they identify the interpretation of Scripture that is deemed to be accurate. It is well known how many foul doctrines and false practices, as well as just plain common misconceptions, are found hiding behind statements of Scripture that are purported to teach such things. Creeds flush the false teacher out of the bushes by affirming truth in uncompromising language that he cant accept." (Peter C. Moore, "The Creeds are Necessary", I Believe In The Creeds, (Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, March 1999)
"Now, I affirm that the adoption of such a creed is not only lawful and expedient, but also indispensably necessary to the harmony and purity of the visible church a church, in order to maintain the "unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace and love" (cf. Eph. 4:2-3), must have a creed a written creed to which she has formally given her assent, and to a conformity to which her ministrations are pledged when nothing of the kind is employed, I see not how she can be expected, without a miracle, to escape all the evils of discord and corruption A further argument in favor of creeds and Confessions may be drawn from the remarkable fact that their most zealous opposers have generally been latitudinarians and heretics." (Samuel Miller, "Doctrinal Integrity", The Utility and Importance of Creeds and Confessions, (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1824, 1839 [1841 printing])
"The idea that in dispensing with Creeds churches are after all better off, is a delusion and a snare. with a correct Creed we possess the Bible in fuller measure." (G. H. Hospers, "Creeds and Standards: Their Significance and Functions", The Reformed Principles of Authority (The Reformed Press, 1924)
It should be noted that these statements would not be published by these particular denominations unless they were approved statements. What we should remember when we hear such statements is: These creeds were written by mere men. In essence, what these denominations are saying is: Our authority is the writings of men, and not Jesus Christ's alone.
e. Many other denominations make claim to believe and follow the Scriptures only, but betray their own words by writing such statements within the context of statements of faith, or by virtue of the annual conventions that are held to determine what the official doctrines of the church are. When we resort to creeds, conventions, and catechisms to determine what we must believe, we have overruled Jesus as head of the church and replaced Him with that which does not have the approval of God.
2. What can we learn from this? Clearly, the denominational world is confusing, at the least. Is it any wonder, then, that when we try to teach the unbelieving world that we must believe and obey the gospel that they wonder which gospel or which church is right? This way of thinking is confusing and it is destructive, for it appeals to an authority other than the one head, Jesus.
C. The True Church.
1. If we are to call ourselves the true church for which Christ died, we must recognize Him as the sole authority the only head. We must recognize that God "put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all." (Eph. 1:22, 23) We must recognize that "He is the head of the body, the church" and that "in all things He may have the preeminence." (Col. 1:18) We must recognize that "all authority has been given" to Him. (Matt. 28:18)
2. Anytime and every time we appeal to any other authority than Jesus Christ and His words, we are drifting away from the identity of the true church. Recognizing Him as our King, we must submit to His authority, His rule, and His law. Whenever we determine within ourselves that even one of those laws does not apply or is not worth our obedience, we are in rebellion and have elevated ourselves to the same level as, or above, Him. The true church is distinct in that it recognizes Christ alone as head, and appeals to His authority for all that is said and done.
II. A DISTINCT PEOPLE
[2 Cor. 6:14-18]
1. Holy. From the beginning, God has wanted His people to be different than the rest of the world; He has always wanted them to be holy people. The word holy simply means consecrated; sacred. We are to set ourselves apart for His service, avoiding the worldliness that surrounds us. To the young evangelist Timothy, Paul instructed him to "keep yourself pure." (1 Tim. 5:22) James would define pure religion as tending to the needs of others and "to keep oneself unspotted from the world." (Jas. 1:27) Paul also instructed the Roman brethren to "not be conformed to this world" (Rom. 12:2) we are to not be like them. The church is made up of a distinct people.
2. Loving. Another important attribute of the people who make up the Lord's church is love; love for God, love for one another, and love for the souls of the lost. Everything we do must be done with love (1 Cor. 16:14). Love is what tells the world we are His (John 13:35).
3. Non-Denominational. But we also must be different than other religions, different than the denominations. We must not strive to "be like the nations," but like our Lord and Master. We must distinguish ourselves as ones who practice what we preach, and preach what we practice. That is not to say we stop doing something just because a denomination may be doing it; the denomination is not our basis for practice. [It is just as wrong to not do something because a denomination is doing it as it is to do something because a denomination is doing it.]
1. Not so long ago, those who were determined to hold to the word of God as the sole authority for all we say and do would have no part with those who did not. They recognized that, as Paul said, righteousness has no fellowship with lawlessness, and believers have no part with unbelievers. (2 Cor. 6:14-17) For that reason, God instructed them to "Come out from among them and be separate" that He might be their Lord. Now, it is becoming far too common to hear those who claim to be a part of the distinct church desiring to have fellowship with those who follow after the creeds of men, who do not recognize Christ's sole authority, and even those who do not recognize Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God!
2. Right along with this change is an internal desire to refrain from separating ourselves from those who are living in sin. No longer are sinning brethren withdrawn from, disciplined, or even reprimanded. Some have become just as the Corinthian church, puffed up and proud because of their perceived tolerance of a different truth. We have also forgotten the warning that "a little leaven leavens the whole lump." (1 Cor. 5:8) The Lord intended that the church be "a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish." (Eph. 5:27) Sometimes, that means we must remove ourselves separate ourselves from the blemish. To make the claim that we are the distinct church, we must be a distinct people, different and separate from the world.
III. A DISTINCT DOCTRINE
[2 John :9-11]
A. Unchanging. [Heb. 13:8 1 Pet. 1:23]
1. The Distinct Church that is under A Distinct Head will also have A Distinct Doctrine. It will be distinct in the fact that it does not change with society, it does not change because of popular opinion, and it does not change to fit certain cultures. It fits all cultures for all times, is applicable to any and all societies, and remains the same though even the majority of opinion rejects it. The doctrine of Jesus Christ does not change to fit what our society believes it should be (though many act as if it does), for that would render it as unfit. (Who could determine what was right at any time if it was always changing?) People can pick up a Bible today and read the words of Jesus Christ the same as someone a thousand years ago could have known. And another hundred years from now, someone else can pick up the Bible and read and understand and obey the same words of Jesus Christ. The word is living and enduring (1 Pet. 1:23, NASB).
2. How does this compare with some denominational concepts of God's will?
a. Every religious organization that claims to be committed to following Christ and His word betrays their true intentions if that same organization produces its own creed book and almost every major denomination does. One particular major denomination has established a panel of individuals whose sole purpose is to determine what God's will is for its members. [God's will is subject to interpretation.]
b. Some denominations teach in their creeds that the will of God may be adapted to each and every culture into which it goes. [God's will is subject to cultural variation.]
c. Several denominations teach that the will of God has not yet been fully revealed, and will be continuously revealed until time ends. [God's will is subject to changes over time.]
d. Still more denominations hold frequent conventions in which prominent members and officials vote on doctrinal statements that outlines their belief and practice. [God's will is subject to popular vote.]
3. And we could give many more examples of doctrines of men and religious organizations, but suffice it to say that any and all organizations that proclaim that God's word may be voted on, may be adapted to cultural variations, or its application may be voted on are in conflict with the will and revealed word of God that does not change. God's word, the psalmist wrote, was forever "settled in heaven." (Psa. 119:89) If we are looking for the church that Jesus built, we must look for a church of distinct people, led by its distinctive head, and following a distinct doctrine a doctrine that does not change.
B. Like No Other.
1. Now, as I say this, we must be clear on what is meant. I am not saying the doctrine of the distinct church must have nothing contained within it that is found in any other doctrine. Many of the denominational creeds have some portion of truth in them, but none has the entire truth in it. That alone distinguishes the doctrine of the true and distinct church from error, in that it follows the doctrine of complete truth, allowing no error.
2. But there are two ways to get to this end: (1) Write a different doctrine for every denominational group, or (2) write nothing and accept what has been given us by God Himself. Both will ensure that our doctrine is distinct, but which is correct? Which will bring souls to Christ and forgiveness of sins, and which will produce false hopes and misplaced faith? Only when we abstain from writing our own doctrines may we have the assurance of salvation and forgiveness of sins. It is the words of Christ alone that will judge us in the last days (John 12:47, 48), not by any written creed of man. Investigate the denominations and see what they have done.
a. Jesus Himself came and spoke that which was in harmony with the will of the Father; those words that He spoke the ones that will judge us in the last day came from the Father and were by His authority (vv. 49, 50).
b. The apostles taught the same will of the Father to all those who became His disciples, not straying from the words that alone would bring salvation. They would be guided "into all truth" by the Holy Spirit, not speaking on His own authority, but of the Father. (John 16:13) We read of Paul being sent out by the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:4), and proclaiming that what he spoke was the word of God (v. 46). He would later write to the Thessalonians, stating his thankfulness for them having received the word of God for what it was (1 Thess. 2:13).
c. And Paul did not speak anything that was not of God; what he spoke was "through the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Gal. 1:11, 12), and warned the Galatian brethren that if they accepted any other gospel, they should be condemned (1:6-9). We may know and believe that the words the apostle spoke and the words that were written were of God, and not their own invention.
d. And in addition to this, Paul spoke the same thing everywhere he went (1 Cor. 4:17), not bringing confusion by preaching one doctrine in one place and another doctrine elsewhere. That doctrine was distinct in that it was like no other and was, in fact, superior to all others. The disciples a distinct people who serve the distinct head must also have a distinct doctrine if it is to be the distinct church.
IV. A DISTINCT PURPOSE
[1 Cor. 10:31]
A. A Purpose Manifested By Our Actions.
1. [Matt. 12:35; 15:18-20] Jesus spoke of this principle, revealing that what a man has in his heart will guide him in what he does. We cannot claim to be followers of God and simultaneously reject any application of His word to our own lives. We cannot be inwardly godly and outwardly ungodly (or vice versa). The distinct church must be made up of people who are outwardly manifesting their true and distinct purpose.
2. [1 John 3:17; 4:20] One such example is the manifestation of love: How is it shown? John wrote that we cannot, in fact, have the love of God in us if we are not willing to share our personal goods with our brethren, and we cannot truly love God if we cannot even love our own brethren. The distinct church and its people will manifest their love by what they do.
B. So, What Is Our Purpose?
1. If I were to consider the advertisements, promotions, and appeals of many churches, I would get a pretty broad picture of what seems to be the purpose of these churches.
a. Many churches offer food as a means of drawing people to them. [Purpose: Feeding the hungry.]
b. Many churches offer singing groups, dramatic theater, and clown shows for the children. [Purpose: Entertaining the masses.]
c. Many churches offer organized athletic activities and exercise classes to draw people in. [Purpose: Achieving physical fitness.]
d. Many churches advertise their "warm, friendly, atmosphere" and "family-friendly" services. [Purpose: Fulfilling the void of missing parents, or, possibly, child care.]
2. Now, while we may say that all of these things are "good works" (this would be debatable), what they really do is reveal the true purpose of these churches, and the spiritual condition of those who are a part of them is not in the mix. If we are truly interested in the souls of those who are lost, we will not offer them food, entertainment, or athletic activities those things will not do anything toward the saving of their souls.
3. The distinct church will have as its purpose the saving of souls both of self and of others. Our appeals must rest solely upon those things that will contribute to their salvation. Donuts and coffee will not save their souls; basketball and aerobics will not save their souls, and choirs and clown shows will not save their souls.
a. But the word of God will! [Acts 11:14/Rom. 1:16] The apostle Paul told the Jews at Rome "that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!" (Acts 28:28) What was he speaking of but the word of God?!?
b. Preaching Jesus Christ will! [Acts 4:12]
c. When Paul spoke of becoming all things to all men that he "might by all means save some," he did not mean he appealed to their fleshly desires to bring them to Christ! He simply spoke of the need to put ourselves in the shoes of other men that we might better understand their perspective and teach Jesus to them in a way they would understand. We can and must do the same thing, for our greater purpose even in our efforts to save souls is that God be glorified. Whatever we do should be done to the glory of God. Is God glorified through spaghetti suppers and cake walks? Is He glorified through puppet shows and acoustically-perfect music? Is He glorified through touchdowns and weight loss? When put in these terms, it sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? It should! This is not why Christ died!
Let us stop for a moment and consider this one important fact: Christ died for the church. Knowing this, we should consider that the church for which Christ died should be worthy of His death. It will not be a center for fulfilling our fleshly desires for food, fun, and entertainment; it should not be a place to go to "feel good about ourselves" and "fellowship" in the sense many churches use that term today. All of these things are merely appeals to our fleshly side, and do nothing to improve our spiritual condition in the sight of God.
If you are looking for the true and distinct church, the one for which Christ died and the one of which we must be a part if we want to enter into the glories of heaven, we must look for the church with a distinct head, made up of a distinct people, bound by a distinct doctrine, and driven by a distinct purpose. Lacking any of these things disqualifies us as being a part of that church Jesus built and for which He died.
What about you? Is the church you are a part of distinct? Is Christ its true head? Does it heed the words of their Lord, or have they written their own doctrine? Does the church of which you are a part appeal to the fleshly desires or the spiritual need?
If you are not yet a part of the Lord's church, please join us as we strive to be God's people: serving Jesus as our Lord, following His doctrine alone, living godly lives, and reaching out to fulfill the spiritual shortcomings of a lost and dying world. Will you come?
by Steven C. Harper
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