Monday, March 30, 2015

The unity of the visible church and terms of communion #2

"And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them". (Acts 15:4)

  • the work of salvation cannot be separated from the nature of church communion, there must be qualifications for the latter 

"And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter" (v6)

  • the unity and government of the church in the new testament follows on directly from that of the Old Testament. We have a passing reference to the office of elder as assumed to be continued in the New Testament together with church courts. 
  • Deliberation and decision on matters relating to terms of communion rest with representative presbyters in church courts.

"Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they". (vv10-11)

  • the terms of communion under the mosaic administration involved a burden that was too heavy to bear

"Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things." (v14-17)

  • Scripture must be the ultimate authority to appeal to in order to confirm experience
  • the church is a people named with the name of God and under his authority and his possession
  • the church is the continuation of the church of Israel under the Old Testament
  • there is now no separation between Jew and gentile in the communion of the church

"Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God" (v19)

  • unscriptural terms of communion trouble the people of God 

Monday, March 16, 2015

The unity of the visible church and terms of communion #1

In what follows I would like to endeavour to reflect upon Acts 15 and what we can we can learn about the unity of the visible church and terms of communion by good and necessary consequence.

Acts 15v1 "And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved"

  • The church will often face those who wish to add to, diminish from or over extend the terms of communion established by the word of God. The principles of Acts 15 can be applied to all and any of these situations also. It is just as unscriptural to diminish from as to add to what God requires.
  • In this case there was addition to, but in much of the New Testament e.g. Corinth and Churches of Asia there was a laxity on these matters i.e. participation in idolatry and immorality. 
  • Differences in relation to terms of communion may often relate to correct interpretation of scripture including the prohibitions of the mosaic law and the degree of continuity between old and new treatments
  • Sometimes this may even impact upon and distort the teaching of the gospel and v24 subverts and plunders souls 
  • This will also subvert the foundations of the church

v.2-3 "When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren."

  • Where terms of communion are distorted in this way division and strife inevitably results
  • Which will lead to permanent disunity (Rom 14:1)
  • It is our duty to resist and oppose false teaching and practice that subverts the unity of the church and the purity of the gospel in this area 
  • It is the role of church courts to handle such questions and to assert the scriptural view upon it.
  • Ignoring such questions or making them a matter of individual conscience will not settle them as they concern the whole church