Lesson 1: What Do We Believe?
At Grace Baptist we believe our greatest doctrinal responsibility is to understand and hold fast to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jude wrote, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). This “faith” is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
What we believe is of utmost importance to understanding membership at Grace Baptist. Therefore, our statement of faith (Confession) is a summary of what we believe the Bible teaches concerning the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Although no statement of faith can reveal all the depths of the plans and purposes of God, it can give a “snapshot” of the revealed will of God for the Church of Jesus Christ. We have adopted the New Hampshire Confession as our church confession. Please consider the following truths about statements of faith.
- Statements of faith are biblical.
- Paul told the Corinthian Church, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures . . .” (1 Cor. 15:1-3). Paul went through great lengths in order to protect the Gospel and also gave instructions to the church on the importance of holding onto this Gospel. At one point, He said to the Galatians, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8). Statements of faith do exactly this: they guard and protect the Gospel.
- Statements of faith are historical.
- By this we mean they have been used by the church throughout history to guard and protect the faith once for all delivered to the saints. For example, the Nicene Creed was written against heresy to protect the divinity and humanity of the Lord Jesus.
- Statements of faith are mere statements.
- They are filled with words about the Scriptures. They are not the Scriptures themselves. Our standard or basis for what we believe will always be the Old and New Testaments that make up the Bible. Our statement of faith is a summary of some of the essential elements of the Christian faith. This statement of faith certainly does not encompass everything we believe. However, you will be expected to adhere to this statement in order to become a member at Grace Baptist Church.
Lesson 2: How Do We Live Together?
Just as a confession declares what we believe, so a church covenant is concerned with how we live. It sets forth in practical terms the ideal of the Christian life: a living faith working by love leading to holiness. In this class we’re particularly focused on how we live together (covenant together) as members of a local church. So, what is a Church Covenant?
- A Church Covenant is a promise.
- A promise made to God
- A promise made to a local church
- A Promise Made to one’s self
- A Church Covenant is a summary of how we agree to live together.
- While our Confession is a good summary of what we believe, our church covenant is a summary of how we agree to live. More importantly, it is a summary of how God would have us live. It does not include every explicit command regarding obedience, but it does give a general summary of what it means to live as a disciple of Christ.
- A Church Covenant is a sign of commitment.
- A sign of commitment to God.
- A sign of commitment to His church.
- A sign of commitment to personal holiness.
- A Church Covenant is an ethical and a biblical statement.
- One theologian calls church covenants the “ethical counterpart to confessions of faith.” A church covenant can be an important part of applying a Christian worldview to every aspect of our lives. Inherent in the purpose of a church covenant is the understanding that church membership involves being held accountable to live in a manner consistent with a common understanding of Scripture.
- A covenant is helpful in a church that is practicing Biblical church discipline. Simply put: As members of a church, we exhort one another to live holy lives, and we challenge brothers and sisters persisting in sin. We need a biblical, agreed upon standard by which to rightly judge and exhort each other when unrepentant sin exists in the church.
- Where do covenants come from?
- You won’t find a church covenant in the Bible in the sense that you can turn to the “Book of Covenants, chapter 3.” But beginning in the Old Testament you see Moses in the book of Exodus as a mediator of a covenant between God and man—between God and the People of Israel. You see Joshua very concerned at the end of his life in the book of Judges that the people not forget God and that they keep their covenant with Him and be a holy, distinct people unlike the other nations. When the people of Israel come out of exile you see Nehemiah and Ezra renew the covenant where Ezra the priest/prophet reads God’s word and calls the people of Israel to repent, turning away from sin and be like God – holy, not idol worshippers.
- In the New Testament, of course, you see Christ as a mediator of a new covenant (1 Cor 11, Heb 9:15). This is a covenant, like in the Old Testament, that is made between God and man. Covenants can also be made between man and man. Both are to encourage holy living.
- Who can sign the GBC covenant?
- At GBC we believe in regenerate church membership. Although we can never protect completely a situation where we (infallible sinners) may make a poor decision, there is a biblical safeguard given to us. The answer is called regenerate church membership. This means that a congregation is made up of real believers. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” As Paul said to the Ephesian church, “you who were dead in your trespasses and sins must be made alive”. If the great majority of a congregation is saved, we can expect godly decisions. Therefore, only those who have made a credible confession and desire to join with GBC can sign the covenant.
- Listen to the vocabulary used in the NT when speaking about church members. “the called of Jesus Christ … beloved of God, called to be saints, (Romans 1:6, 7) . . . sanctified in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 1:2) . . . called into the grace of Christ (Gal. 1:6) . . . those who are of faith (Gal. 3:9) . . . the faithful in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:1) . . . to the church of the Thessalonians . . . our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power . . . and you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction (1 Thessalonians 1:1, 5, 6) . . . your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other (2 Thessalonians 1:3) . . . Those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works (Titus 3:8) . . . the testing of your faith produces patience (James 1:3) . . . to the pilgrims of the dispersion . . . begotten again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:1, 3) . . . to those who have obtained like precious faith with us . . . as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue (2 Peter 1:1, 3).”
- Biblical congregationalism presupposes regenerate church membership, for only a regenerate congregation can govern itself responsibly: Spiritual People Making Spiritual Decisions. If we are going to govern ourselves properly, we must guard church membership. We cannot always know who is saved and who is lost in relation to church membership. However, we can do our best in a biblical and prudent manner when it comes to membership. Those who complete this process of membership at GBC will be required to sign our covenant.
- Membership Process
- Membership Class. Every prospective member will first go though the All About Grace class taught by one of the elders or someone appointed by the elder body.
- Membership Interview. Every prospective member will have an interview with one of the elders.
- Credible Confession of Faith
- Baptism issues
- Agreement with Church Confession
- Agreement with Church Covenant
- Elder Recommendation. At this time the prospective member will be presented to the congregation for membership.
- Church Affirmation. After a one month waiting period, the new member will be presented as a member either at a member’s meeting or at the end of one of our regular Sunday meetings.
Lesson 3: How Are We Governed? (Elders in Congregational Life)
- What is congregationalism?
- We are a visible congregation. Our confession says that we are a “visible” congregation. This means that we are a visible “assembly” or “gathering” of people meeting together with a specific purpose. Our primary focus is to worship our creator, to bring glory to God almighty, the blessed God of the glorious gospel, as we gather together in the common bond of the Jesus Christ.
- Look at some of the things we visibly do as a congregation. We profess We join into a covenant with God and with each other. By doing this, we have fellowship in the Gospel. We observe the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We follow certain laws. We have gifts, rights, and privileges by the authority of God’s Word. We have specific leadership. All of these “visible” elements make up our definition of church and our understanding of what it means to be a congregation.
- We are congregational in the way we govern ourselves. In their confessions of faith and other literature, Baptists have stood very clearly throughout history in favor of congregational church government. One of the reasons we are Baptist is because we agree with this assertion. One professors says, “In this model, the congregation exercises the ultimate human authority in the church, under Christ’s divine authority.” In other words, the congregation, made up of saved, Spirit-filled followers of Christ, and under His authority, have the right to have an equal voice in order to determine church decisions (Hammett, in Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, p. 143).
- We are autonomous. In this congregational view of church government, we are autonomous. The dictionary defines autonomy as “independent” “self-governing” “self-ruling” or “sovereign”. Listen to the Baptist Faith and Message in what it says about autonomy. “A New Testament Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation . . . Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord . . .” This does not mean that we don’t cooperate with other congregations in missions, education, evangelism, disaster relief, as well as so many other things. It is simply the understanding that the final court of appeal in the local church is not the Pope or a Bishop or an international body or a national assembly. It is not the chairman of the board or a group of trustees. The last and final court of appeal in a matter of the life of the local church is the local congregation itself.
- We are congregational in the way we govern ourselves. How we understand ourselves biblically as a congregation determines how we govern ourselves. Congregationalism affects the following questions: How do we make decisions? How do we choose leaders? How do we decide where we will meet? How do we decide how we spend our money? In order to answer these questions we must understand what it means to be congregational.
- Biblical Examples of Congregationalism
- Matters of conflict between Christians. (Matt. 18:15-17) “Moreover, if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” Notice the final court of appeal. It is the local congregation, the church.
- Matters of Doctrine. Concerning the Gospel, the congregation seemed to be the authority. Writing to the young Galatian Church, Paul said, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8). Paul was telling the church, If someone ever preaches another gospel, you have the responsibility to reject this gospel. He is not writing merely to the pastors or the Presbytery or the Bishop, but to the church.
- Matters of Discipline. Not only do we have the example of Matt. 18 as we have seen, notice also what Paul says to the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 5. In the context of sexual immorality, he commands the church to: “deliver the unrepentant person over to Satan” (v. 5), “purge them out” (v. 7), “not to keep company with those who act this way” (v. 9), and finally “put away the evil person.” Again, Paul is speaking to the congregation.
- Matters of Church Membership. (2 Cor. 2:6-8) “This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.” In this situation, the church acted to punish this man. A majority of the church decided or voted to exclude this man. Now, Paul writes to instruct the church that this punishment was sufficient and to let him come back into the church.
- No Clear Example. We have no clear example in the NT where a superior organization is the authority in church decisions.
- NT Letters Addressed to Churches. An overwhelming majority of the letters in the NT were addressed to the congregations, not the leaders.
- Implications and Applications for Congregationalism
- Congregationalism and Authority in regard to Error.
- Is the Congregation always right? Of course not! Just because the congregation is the final authority in the matters of church discipline, doctrine, conflict, membership, as well as other important decisions, doesn’t mean that the congregation is always right.
- Consider an example from history: Jonathan Edwards (Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God) the greatest American theologian, philosopher, and thinker in American History. He was fired because of an issue over communion and membership. History shows that this probably wasn’t the best decision.
- Many Christians have been involved personally, or know some Christian leader who has been involved in a congregational squabble, or vote that was in error. How many cases have you heard where an important “church” issue or personnel problem has come up at a business meeting, where some or many individuals of the congregation get on the phone and call all the “inactive” members of the church to rally to their side and attend the meeting, all with the purpose of showing their “congregational” right?
- We believe the congregation has the right to choose its leaders, and when in the case of an elder, this person no longer is qualified because of sin, or inability to handle the word of God, or related issues, it is the responsibility of the congregation to deal in a godly way with discipline and even remove this person from leadership.
- Congregationalism and Leadership
- How do elders fit into a congregational form of church government? If the congregation has the final authority in this congregational sense, how should we view leadership? How do elders and deacons fit into this congregational form of Church Government? If we are congregational, how should we respond to Hebrews 13:17 which says, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” Also, in 1 Tim. 5:17, Paul says, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.”
- Elders must ultimately give an account to God. At the end of the day, the elders don’t work for the congregation as one would work for an employer. The elders work for God. As elders, we must watch over all the members of GBC and give an account for your souls. This is one of the most serious realities in all of life. Paul tells the Ephesian elders to “take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).
- Authority to lead is given by the congregation. What we must remember is that, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, God-given authority comes from the congregation. Elders have been given authority both by God and the congregation to lead, particularly to govern and to teach. Deacons, also have been given authority to serve in physical and temporal areas.
- There must be trust between the elders and the congregation. Because of this congregational aspect in relation to authority, there must be trust between the congregation and the leaders. As long as your elders are faithfully teaching the word of God by protecting the Gospel of Jesus Christ and leading godly lives, there must be a certain amount of trust. If the congregation has called qualified leaders, and these leaders serve the congregation, there must be a great level of trust. According to Mark Dever, “It is a serious spiritual deficiency in a church either to have leaders who are untrustrworthy or members who are incapable of trusting.”
- Application: How do we trust? As we think about decisions the church needs to make, it will be helpful to categorize our decisions into different areas.
- Clear, But Not Serious. Should we buy an artificial floor for our children to play on? Yes, but what kind? It really doesn’t matter, but it is clear that we need the floor. If we ever have a building, should we paint the exterior green? It is clear we must paint, but the color isn’t that important.
- Neither Serious Nor Clear. Should we put announcements at the beginning or end of the service? Should we meet in Gym 1 or Gym 2? Should we have 3 or 4 or 5 songs during the service? If we had a building, this would include everything from cleaning contracts to parking ideas. These things are important but not the most important. They are neither serious nor clear.
- Both Serious and Clear. Should we continue to require belief that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man in order to be a member of the church? There will almost always be agreement in these areas. However, if there are serious errors by the elders in either doctrine or discipline, this is where we have the NT example of the Apostles appealing to the congregation. For example, would the Church at Galatia forfeit the Gospel? Would the Church at Ephesus accept false teaching? Would the Church at Corinth refuse to recognize genuine repentance? Another example in this category is our Confession and even our Covenant. Both of these documents were given to the congregation with considerable time to look over, ask questions, respond with one another, and accept. This is an example of congregationalism at work. Yes, there have been questions. Yes, there have been discussions with one another. Yes, there have been clarifications. But, in the end, the congregation has affirmed these doctrinal and practical foundational documents of the church. In the end, we have said together, “This is good. This is biblical. This is something that we consider serious and clear in our judgment.”
- Serious, but not Clear. Should we call this person or another person as an elder? Should we pay another elder? Should we recommend a particular person for membership? Should we recommend to buy land in China Grove or Landis? These are very serious decisions that need to be considered, but they aren’t clear. These are examples of the issues where the congregation trusts the elders. As a congregation, you have given the elders the authority to pray, search the Scriptures, give serious thought to, and lead in these areas. It is concerning the serious, but not clear decisions where the elders most serve the church, rather than the church attempting to act as a committee of the whole, or having the pastor, or some committee chairman, make the decision alone. In the end, these decisions are always brought before the congregation for approval. This is the crucial area where a church either enjoys the leadership God gives it and prospers by it, or they reject it and pay the price.
- A church member’s basic attitude needs to be either to trust the leaders or replace them. At the same time, don’t say that you acknowledge them and then not follow them. If you disagree with the elders on a recommendation, have a good reason. Communication is so important! Go and talk with them about it. At the same time, the elders must let the congregation know where they are heading as well as the reasons why they heading that way. We must trust one another! We must communicate with one another!
- The disqualification of an elder. How do we determine when an elder is no longer qualified to lead?
- Biblical Qualifications. According to Scripture, the elder is commanded to “shepherd” the church of God (Acts 20:28 and other passages). The elder is qualified to be a pastor if there is a God-given desire (calling), an ability to teach, and a godly lifestyle (1 Tim. 3:1-7; 1 Tim. 4:6, 12).
- So, if the desire to “pastor the church of God” is no longer a part of the elder’s calling (for whatever reason), he shouldn’t continue to be an elder. If an elder begins to teach falsely in respect to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the congregation has the right to speak up. In our case, if one of our elders begins to teach contrary to our Confession of Faith, you have the obligation to address this issue. Another case where an elder is no longer qualified is if he is no longer “above reproach” in his life. Is there is ungodliness in his life in respect to the qualifications presented in 1st Timothy and Titus? In our case, if the elders begin to live contrary to our Church Covenant, the congregation has the right to confront this ungodliness, and if this problem is not resolved with repentance, but with continued sin, then disciplinary action may be needed.
- Consider one part of our covenant: “We will guard our tongues, not speaking evil or complaining against one another, avoiding all gossip, not lying to one another, but instead speaking words that admonish one another.” Allthough we do not desire to sin in this way, we WILL break this part of our covenant and sin in the coming days. When this happens, does this mean that you all of a sudden say, “Elder so and so broke the covenant, we must reprimand him and get rid of him as a pastor.” No! When we say something that does not admonish our brother, or we gossip, or we complain against someone, by God’s grace, hopefully repentance will come, we will get right with God, and if needed, approach the one we have offended. This is repentance at work. If, on the other hand, we do not repent and continually gossip, lie, and speak words that do not admonish our brother, and as Matt. 18 says, you approach me in the right way, and we refuse to repent, then, in that case, we are not qualified to be an elder. Do you see the difference?
Lesson 4: Why Join a Local Church
Have you ever heard a professing Christian say, “I don’t need to become a member of a local church.” I am a Christian, and I don’t need all of those other Christians in my life. After all, religion is a private matter. I worship God in my own way. It is ok for me to go to the mountains, or to the lake, and worship. This is good enough for me.” Maybe you have heard someone say, “I worship in my living room with my favorite TV preacher. I learn more from him than I ever could at the local church. Those people in the church are just a bunch of hypocrites anyway.”
Here is another scenario. A young couple comes to church. They enjoy the preaching. They enjoy singing with other Christians. They like the fellowship with other believers. After some time, one of the pastors approaches them about church membership. They become uncomfortable and about a month later, they leave for another place where they can be anonymous. The fact is that church membership is not serious in our culture. And, even when someone joins a local church, there is very little, or no understanding of what it means to covenant together before God with a group of like-minded Christians in a particular place.
Sadly, church growth among local bodies of Christians in our culture, is more about a redistribution of “membership” than a testimony to the example in Acts which says, “and the Lord added to the church daily those were being saved” (Acts 2:45). What is the problem? There are many, but one of them is directly related to what it means to be a church member. In most cases Christians in our culture don’t have a very high view of the church, much less what it means to be a church member.
You may have even heard someone say, “joining a church is not biblical, nowhere does the Bible say to join a church.” Concerning membership, you might think, “If I come and worship as often as the members, and if I fellowship with these believers as much as anyone else, if I profit from the teaching and other ministries of the church, and if I actively demonstrate love for my brothers and sisters in Christ here, why should I formally join the church? After all, I do not see a clear command for membership in the Bible.” At Grace, we believe the Bible teaches local church membership. Why? Consider the following reasons.
- You join a local church because it is biblical.
- Church discipline can only happen in the context of membership. According to Matt. 18, church discipline must be done by the church. Concerning the discipline of a church member, Paul says 1 Cor. 5: 11-13, “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner — not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore, put away from yourselves the evil person.”
- This kind of language can only refer to a definite church membership. For what authority does a group have to remove someone who is already “outside” and not a member of the group? You can’t formally discipline someone who is in an informal relationship with you. These people in Corinth had voluntarily committed themselves to a formal relationship and they knew the official members of the church and who were “outside.” How do you know who the “church” is if you don’t have some kind of formal membership? Biblical church discipline must be limited to a specific group and this must refer to church members.
- The meaning of “the whole church” in 1 Corinthians 14:23 makes sense only in a context of membership. Speaking in the context of orderly worship, Paul says, “If the whole church comes together in one place . . .” What did he mean by “whole church”? Who did he have in mind? The only realistic answer is “the church members.” Imagine the leaders of the Corinthian Christians walking into the gathering of the church for worship one Sunday. Would they have known by looking, or would they have had some way of deciding, whether “the whole church” was there? Surely they would have known who was supposed to be present in a church-wide meeting and who was missing. This example implies a verifiable membership.
- The instructions for pastoral oversight and spiritual leadership make sense only in the context of membership. The NT often speaks of leadership in the local church. This is the office of elder. Who do these elders oversee? How can an overseer provide spiritual oversight if he doesn’t know exactly those for whom he is responsible? A very clear, mutually-understood membership is required for a pastor to fulfill this duty. How can a shepherd take care of his sheep if he doesn’t know who are in his flock?
- The metaphors used to describe local churches (flock, temple, body, household) make sense only in the context of membership. There are many metaphors (picture words) that are used to describe the church. Some of them describe the universal church. However, the words “flock,” “temple,” “body,” and “household” are definitely used to refer to local churches. A shepherd knows his flock. There are no loose bricks in the temple. They are all in their place. A body is not made up of loosely related parts, but a unified whole. And, in a household, a family, you are either a member or you are not. These metaphors only make sense in the context of church membership.
- You join a local church to prove you are not ashamed to identify with Christ or His people.
- Illustration: What if John dates Mary for many years? He tells her he loves her and only wants her in his life. She does the same. But, after some years, she asks John, “Why won’t you marry me?” to which he replies, “I just want to make sure.” How do you think Mary will feel? He wants the benefits of a relationship, but doesn’t want to completely identify, or fully commit to Mary in marriage.
- Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the father except by me” (John 14:6) When you join a church, You say “Jesus is the truth and I follow Him”. Jesus said in Mark 8:38 that if anyone is ashamed to identify himself with Him on earth then He will not identify Himself with that person when he or she stands before God in judgment. Joining a church is one of the plainest ways of saying you’re not ashamed to identify yourself with Jesus and with His people.
- You join a local church in order to evangelize the lost.
- You might be thinking, “What does evangelism have to do with coming to church? Isn’t evangelism telling people about the gospel and asking them to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus to be saved?” You are absolutely right, and all of us should be doing this. This is the obvious way to evangelize. But, did you know that you evangelize by joining a church?
- Individual evangelism is telling the gospel to non-believers. Joining a Church is living out the gospel to an unbelieving world. Church membership helps make the gospel clear to non-Christians by providing a unified witness of what it means to be a Christian. Membership provides this unified witness by implementing a statement of faith, encouraging unity in doctrine, and a church covenant, encouraging unity in lifestyle.
- And, how does the Bible say the world will know we are Christians? They will know by our love. Joining a local church gives an opportunity for you to love and live in unity with other Christians. By doing this over a period of time, the community will say, “GBC is full of real Christians. They love each other. They serve one another. They follow Christ. Tell me about this gospel.”
- You join a local church for mutual accountability.
- When you join a church you stop being an independent Christian and place yourself under the discipline and protection of other Christians. Growth in godliness, also known as sanctification, is most effective in the local church. If you are a Christian and you think you can grow in godliness outside the help of other Christians in the local church, you are gravely mistaken.
- You join a local church so that godly shepherds can watch over your soul.
- Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” This verse makes no sense at all outside the context of the local church. How can elders/pastors watch out for your soul if you haven’t placed yourself under their care? If regular attenders don’t eventually make themselves known to the elders as members of the church, then they cannot take responsibility for them as part of their particular flock. Pastors need to know for which sheep God will hold them accountable so that they can tend to them most responsibly and effectively.
- You join a church for edification.
- This is the word for “build up” or “strengthen.” When you join a church you are able to strengthen and build up other Christians and vice versa. Some people may not join a church because they feel they will be slowed down spiritually. But, think about this. God blesses us so that we might bless others (Ps. 67). And, there is no better way to bless others than in the context of the local church. God is not just concerned about our own personal piety. He cares for all his people.
- Have you ever thought that God wants you to join a local church so that you can bless weaker Christians? This is difficult in our individualistic privatized version of Christianity we have in our culture. For whatever reason, practically, we don’t want other Christians involved in our lives, much less the thought that we are supposed to make disciples by getting involved in other peoples’ lives.
- Here is a bold statement. If you have been a Christian for many years and you have never invested your life into another person for the purpose of making disciples, then you have never understood the concept of God blessing you so that you can bless others. We are great at baking meals for the sick, or for newborn mothers. We believe as a culture we are good with our money. We like to help people in the name of Christ. But, until we get into each others lives on a deeper level, and even invest into the lives of those with whom we are sharing the gospel, we will miss the boat on what it means to make disciples. We have such a receiver’s mentality. Here is a typical mindset. “We come to the church,” instead of “We are the church.” Joining a local church helps us to create a disciple-making atmosphere.
- Consider Heb.10:24-25.” And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” Notice the words “consider one another.” We can only do this in the context of the local church.
- You join a local church so you can use your spiritual gift.
- 1 Cor. 12:4-7 says, “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.” Spiritual gifts are intended to be used in the context of a local body of Christ.
All of these reasons, and more show clearly that by joining a local church you fulfill your purpose as a Christian, and if you are a united with Christ, you should join with a local congregation. You weren’t created for a life of individuality and self-will, but to be a part of a local body of Christ.
 Biblically, there is only ONE church. All those who are united to Christ are members of his body, the church. However, this lesson is in reference to believers as they congregate together in local settings; hence, the “local church.”
Lesson 5: A Vision for Making Disciples in the Local Church
One of our goals at GBC is to create an environment where making disciples is normal. Jesus’ last command to his disciples is found in Matthew 28:18-20: “And Jesus came and said to them, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This is our practical command as Christians and the local church is the front line for making disciples.
- Discipleship begins in the home. For the most part the church is made up of individual families. And, if these individual families are healthy, so will the church be healthy.
- See Eph. 5:15-6:9. Concerning godliness in the home, Paul writes with specific instructions to Christian families. The context is found in 4:17 which says, “This is the will of the Lord.” He is saying, “If you want to know what the will of the Lord is for a healthy family, here it is.
- See also Col. 3:12 – 4:1 in the NT and Deut. 6:1-9 in the OT.
- Wives (5:22)
- Husbands (5:25)
- Fathers (6:4) He speaks to father and mother, but in both cases he tells the fathers not to provoke them to wrath. But, the point is that the father must take the primary lead in leading his family.
- Mothers: implied with fathers.
- Children (6:1) Obey your parents. We must require our children to obey us. God’s standard is children who are obedient.
- Others: This includes anyone else who may be involved with our household. (slaves, bondservants in their time. In our time, it could be anybody we take into our home, or invite into our home.) In the end, 6:9 says that our basis is that we have a Master in Heaven. Our authority is from God.
- Discipleship is cultivated in home groups.
- Here at GBC we meet together in home groups. These groups are essential as we try to create an environment where making disciples is normal. Practically, these groups give us the opportunity to live out our church covenant. Our example is found in Acts 2:42-47.
- Teaching (v. 42)
- Fellowship (v. 42)
- Breaking of bread (v. 42)
- Prayers (v. 42)
- Other Issues for Consideration
- So, how important is teaching in the home groups? Is teaching the primary focus in our home groups? Of course teaching is important, but. . .
- The entire model from Acts 2:42-47 is important. It is important that we focus on all of these things. We shouldn’t exclude one aspect at the expense of another. Home groups help create an environment where discipleship is normal.
- Home Groups are NOT “Sunday School classes” (at least not in the traditional sense). What are some differences?
- Time for fellowship
- Age Integrated
- Home groups are an opportunity for our children to see a model of the church.
- Home groups are an opportunity to hold each other accountable in children’s catechism, memory verses, etc.
- Home groups are an opportunity to encourage and to hold each other accountable in discipline.
- What about singing? Acts 2:42-47 say they praised God. This isn’t necessarily through singing. However, there are other places that tell us to sing to and with one another when we come together (Col. 3:16).
Lesson 6: Baptism
Our confession says that a Gospel Church is “A congregation of baptized believers.” It goes without saying that, as a Baptist church, we believe that baptism is for believers. This means we are credobaptists. We baptize believers upon a profession of faith, and this with overwhelming biblical support. On the other hand, many Christians through history and many denominations baptize infants (some link baptism with salvation while some do not). They are known as paedobaptists. This is not the time or place to discuss the biblical and historical basis for paedobaptism. And, although we think there is clear biblical and historical support for baptism by immersion as opposed to baptism by sprinkling, there must also be another time for this discussion. Let us consider some issues related to baptism.
- Baptism is a Command of Christ. There are churches in the world that do not baptize because they believe baptism is too controversial of an issue. We do agree that baptism can be controversial, and pastoral issues surrounding baptism are probably the most difficult to deal with. Questions like: When do we baptize children? Do we accept baptism from another church? Who can baptize? All these are difficult issues and must be addressed! However, one thing is very clear in the Scriptures. Jesus said, “Go and Baptize Disciples” (Matt. 28:18). Although Jesus himself never baptized anyone (John 4:2), it is His command to the Church.
- Baptism is a Public Profession of Faith in Christ. As we look to the NT, public confession of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord was not by coming forward to the front of the Church at the time of invitation. Public confession in Christ was by baptism. Indeed an “unbaptized believer” is an oxymoron. Baptism is the means whereby one declares publicly faith in Jesus Christ for salvation and is initiated into the believing community.
- Listen to our confession. Of a Gospel Church we believe that a visible Church of Christ is a congregation of baptized believers. As a Church, we will baptize believers. We believe our example from Scripture and early church history is clear. Baptism is linked with faith.
- Baptism is a picture of the Christian’s union with Christ.
- Our Confession says, “We believe that the best picture of Christian Baptism is the immersion in water of a believer, into the name of the Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost; to show forth, in a solemn and beautiful emblem, our faith in the crucified, buried, and risen Savior, as it symbolizes our death to sin and resurrection to a new life:”
- If you are married you probably wear your ring every day. You wear this ring because of something that happened in the past (your wedding date). When everyone sees this ring, they know that you are married. This ring is a picture, or a symbol of something else, your marriage to your wife. When the minster said, “With this ring I thee wed” he wasn’t saying this ring is your marriage. He was saying this ring is a token, a symbol, a picture of marriage, particularly the institution of God in the Garden of Eden where He said, “and the two shall become one flesh.” Your ring is a symbol of your union with your wife. In the same way, baptism is a symbol of the Christian’s union with Christ.
- How is the believer united with Christ? The Scriptures are clear! Union with Christ is by a true living faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Who is Jesus Christ? He is the Son of God, the third Person of the Trinity, begotten but not made, existing from all eternity in perfect unity of the Godhead. What did He do? He became flesh and dwelt among us. He lived a perfect life in both motive and works, obeying the holy law of God in every way. He died as an acceptable sacrifice in the place of sinners, whereby the wrath of God was appeased. He was buried in the grave and after 3 days rose again, victorious, as the Son of God with power! This is the Gospel! This is the Gospel in which we believe. This is the Gospel we preach. If you are baptized, your baptism is a picture of your faith through which you are united to Christ. It is a picture of the Gospel.
- Baptism is a symbol of our death to sin and resurrection to a new life.
- As stated earlier, our confession says, “It symbolizes our death to sin and resurrection to a new life.” The clearest biblical text is Rom. 6:3-4. “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
- In this passage Paul is using the concept of baptism to explain the believer’s death to sin and resurrection to a new life. After all, the meaning of the word baptize is to dip, to immerse, or to wash. He is speaking in the context of spiritual union with Christ. Water baptism is a symbol of our being in Christ which means we have been washed, made clean, declared righteous on the basis of Christ’s work. If we are in Christ, we are clean because we are covered, immersed, washed, so to say, by the blood of Christ. If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).
- At this point we must ask the question: Does baptism save? Does Paul mean that all these things happen when someone is baptized with water? No. He is using a physical truth to teach a deeper spiritual truth. He is saying that our being spiritually “immersed” into Christ’s death and resurrection produces these results—our death to sin and our life in Christ. It is our spiritual union with Christ that causes these benefits to come. Do the benefits of your marriage come from a ring!? No, the benefits of your marriage come from being united to your spouse. Your ring is a picture. In the same way, baptism is a picture and a symbol of what it signifies: union with Christ. We are saved by Christ, not by the work of baptism. The Bible says, “He who believes has everlasting life” (John 5:24), and “With the heart man believes unto righteousness” (Rom. 10:10), and “By grace you are saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8). If you take your ring off right now, does this mean that you are no longer married to your spouse? Of course not, you are still married.
- Baptism is a prerequisite to Church Membership.
- Our Confession says, “baptism by faith is prerequisite to the privileges of a Church relation.” Listen also to our Covenant: “Having been brought by Divine Grace to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and, on the profession of our faith, having been baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we joyfully, and with the utmost seriousness, now enter into covenant with one another as one body of Christ.”
- Not only is baptism a command of Christ. It is the sign that we are united with him. Listen to 1 Cor. 12:12-13 which says, “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” Why would I marry Kristen and not wear my wedding ring? In the same way, why would I receive Christ and be united with Him and not publicly profess this relationship with the symbol of baptism? Therefore, baptism is a pre-requisite to membership at GBC.
- Baptism and Children.
- Some churches only baptize adults (or at least those who are of a certain age). We completely understand the reasons. How many times have we seen young children profess Christ get baptized only to see them fall away later and prove themselves to be unregenerate? We completely understand the prudence in this decision. However, we simply do not see a good example of this in the Scriptures. Why would we keep a Christian (child or adult) from being baptized, taking the Lord’s Supper, and Church membership?
- Therefore, at this time, we rely heavily upon Christian parents in examining their children’s lives and looking for fruits of repentance and faith. If a child trusts Christ and the parents believe their child is regenerate, we will not withhold baptism. We strongly recommend that parents WAIT until some maturity in faith is shown. This doesn’t mean we should tell our children they are lost when they ask, “Why can’t I baptize?” We should continue to teach the Gospel of Christ, always affirming what the Scriptures teach: “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” Salvation is through the means of faith. Just because our children aren’t baptized doesn’t mean they are lost. If we wait until they are older, we explain our reasons and they will understand.
- Another reason for waiting for baptism is connected with the Lord’s Supper. When taking the Lord’s Supper we are required to “examine ourselves” before taking the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:28). Although children certainly can understand this concept of self-examination, there is prudence in waiting for an older age to make sure this command can be obeyed.
- What about church membership and voting? At this time we do not have a policy on what age a church member can vote. However, it will probably be at least 16, and possibly 18 years of age. These are areas we will make decisions on in the future.
Lesson 7: The Lord’s Supper
Of a Gospel Church We believe that a visible Church of Christ is a congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the ordinances of Christ.
Concerning the Lord’s Supper our Covenant also says, “that baptism by faith is prerequisite to the privileges of a Church relation; and to the Lord’s Supper (75), in which the members of the Church, by the sacred use of bread and wine, are to commemorate together the dying love of Christ (76); preceded always by solemn self-examination”
There are a few things we notice in our covenant concerning the Lord’s Supper. First of all, as a church, we WILL observe baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We believe it is biblically correct to say that if we do not observe these two ordinances, we cease to be a biblical church.
At the very least, we believe that the Lord’s Supper is for baptized Christians. The logic is obvious. Why would someone be united with Christ, then refuse or neglect baptism out of ignorance or whatever reason, and then take the Lord’s Supper with the body of Christ, especially when the Bible says to examine yourself to make sure you are right with God, and while examining yourself, you realize you haven’t obeyed the first command of Christ to be baptized?
In lesson 6 we considered baptism is an initiatory rite, symbolizing our union with Christ. It pictures to the world the Christian’s commitment to Christ and His Church. The Lord’s Supper is a continuing rite that we observe repeatedly. Look at it like this. If baptism is the wedding ceremony where the believer publicly declares his or her commitment to Christ, the Lord’s Supper is an anniversary celebration in which the wedding vows are renewed.
Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper are pictures of different aspects of the gospel. Baptism is a picture of justification. Justification is the one time act of God where he declares the believer to be righteous, not guilty, based upon the death of Christ. Christ has fulfilled the law on behalf sinners. Those who trust Christ are justified. That is why Paul can say, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
The Lord’s Supper is a picture of sanctification. Sanctification is growth in holiness that follows conversion. It is one of the benefits Christ purchased on the cross, our sanctification. Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” The believer’s sanctification is an ongoing process where the Holy Spirit works powerfully to produce more and more godliness throughout the Christian life.
The Lord’s Supper pictures the Gospel truth of sanctification. Just as we are being renewed daily by the Spirit of Christ, we repeatedly take the Lord’s Supper as a Church. As we partake, we are picturing in numerous ways that the Gospel, the Lord Jesus is our life. His person and work is the basis, not only for our justification, but for our continued renewal and godliness in the Christian life. As bread and wine nourish our bodies with physical renewal, so Christ nourishes our souls and renews us daily. He is our nourishment! He is our sustenance! He is our refreshment! He is our source of life!
With this in mind let’s consider 3 aspects of renewal connected with the Lord’s Supper.
- The Lord’s Supper is a renewal to Christ, especially as we remember his death.
- Look at 1 Cor. 11:24. Jesus said, “and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” As we take the Lord’s Supper we remember Christ. This word “remember” is far deeper than a mere commemoration or simple recalling. It is a vivid and powerful recollection of a past event that affects the present. It takes into account all the benefits of Christ’s death as the Christian remembers that His death was for him.
- The Lord’s Supper is a renewal of our commitment to Christ and His Church.
- 1 Cor. 10:17 links the Lord’s Supper to the unity of the body. “For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” As we partake of the one loaf, we renew our commitment to the one body. This aspect of our renewal is with the body of Christ, each other. When we participate in the Lord’s Supper together we give a clear sign of our unity with one another. The Lord’s Supper is not for those on the outside of Christ. It is for us. In our case, we are a unified local body of believers.
- One of the problems at the Church at Corinth was their lack of unity. This was a great sin. Listen to the words of Paul in 1 Cor. 11:18-22 “Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.”
- There are many specifics we could say about this passage. The important issue is that the Corinthian believers were not regarding one another in love as they came together for the Lord’s Supper. Not only were there divisions, the rich homeowners where the meals were served were not waiting on the slaves, the poor, and others to eat of the meal. (In those days the Lord’s Supper was a full on meal.) We don’t have this context today with the Lord’s Supper. However, we do have the same application. They were not unified in love for one another and they were “unworthily” taking the Lord’s Supper, not considering the body of Christ. The very picture of the Lord’s Supper in the unity of the body was being observed in a hypocritical manner because there was unresolved sin in the body.
- In the same way today, we must come together in unity with love for one another as we renew our commitment to one another. We believe one of the best ways to do this is by reading our Covenant regularly to God and to one another. In this way we are reminded of what a body should be and we are more equipped to examine ourselves.
- The Lord’s Supper is a renewal to Christ’s Mission.
- Look at 1 Cor. 11:26. It says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” We proclaim the death of our Lord to ourselves and to the world till He comes. As we take the Lord’s Supper we are reminded of our mission to go and tell the world that Salvation can only be found in Christ.
- The phrase “till He comes” also reminds us that there is a limitation on the Lord’s Supper. It is a rehearsal and foretaste of the banquet we will have face to face with our Messiah at the marriage feast of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9). With this hope in sight, we renew our commitment to proclaim Christ’s death until faith becomes sight and remembrance becomes reality.
- The Lord’s Supper looks back to the past in remembrance (the death of Christ). It looks around in the present to the fellowship we experience with Christ and the body of believers. Finally, it looks ahead to the consummation, when Christ returns.
Lesson 8: Other Matters (A Work in Progress)
- What does it mean to be a Southern Baptist Church?
A Southern Baptist church is a local church that has voluntarily chosen to be in friendly cooperation with, and contributing towards the causes of, the Southern Baptist Convention. This means that every Southern Baptist Church is completely autonomous. It doesn’t take orders from the SBC, it can be in friendly cooperation when it wants, and disassociate itself when it wants. This means the Southern Baptist Convention isn’t a church, but is rather comprised of thousands of local churches that cooperate together for the primary purpose of missions and evangelism. It is a parachurch organization to serve churches. And, frankly, if you use the term “denomination” in the way that most people use it—as a body with authority over churches, that makes decisions that are carried out in all its churches—as is the case with Presbyterian churches, Anglican churches, Lutheran churches, and many others—then the SBC isn’t really even a denomination either. It’s basically a big pot of money that many different churches contribute to that goes to fund missions and seminaries, and a few other things.
So when we say the words “in friendly cooperation with?” we mean that we have a shared theology and vision for missions and evangelism. And when we say “contributing towards the causes of…,” it simply means that we give financial support to the work of the Convention.
- Where did the SBC come from?
The SBC emerged out of the need to better support and facilitate missions, both here in North America and around the world. In 1814, independent Baptist churches from South Carolina to Massachusetts came together to form the first national Baptist organization in America. It became known as the Triennial Convention because it met every 3 years, and its purpose was to coordinate the funding of international missionaries like Adoniram Judson, the famous missionary to Burma.
In 1845 this association of churches and the Convention they founded split over 2 issues: 1) Should a central sending board, or local sending boards send missionaries? 2) Could slaveholders be sent as missionaries?
Sadly, most of the Baptists (as well as Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopalian) churches in the south, didn’t believe slavery was morally wrong. However, most northern churches, Baptist and non-Baptist alike, correctly understood that American slavery was an abomination and antithetical to the gospel. At about this time, almost all of the major Protestant denominations split on north/south lines, including Baptists, over the issues of slavery and secessionism, with the southern churches in our case forming the Southern Baptist Convention. At the end of the war some of these splits were reversed and denominations reunified, but in the case of the SBC the rift remained permanent due to theological disagreements with what became the more theologically liberal Northern Baptist Convention (today’s ABC).
Fortunately, the SBC has since publicly repented and apologized for its past position, declaring that church members must, “unwaveringly denounce racism, in all its forms, as deplorable sin” and “repent of racism of which we have been guilty whether consciously or unconsciously.”
But that was only one of two big crises that has shaped the SBC. As American churches moved from the 19th into the 20th century, theological liberalism—a denial of the authority and truth of the Bible—began to grow in most major denominations, including the SBC. By the 1970s SBC pastors were being trained in SBC seminaries by professors who denied core gospel doctrines like the divinity of Christ, the necessity of faith in Him for salvation, the authority of the Bible and more. Like the racism before it, if this had continued, GBC would likely not be an SBC church today. But, again, in God’s mercy a change occurred.
Beginning in the 1980s there was something of a grass-roots rebellion in the SBC, something not seen in other major US denominations, and the congregational polity of the SBC churches made this possible. Over time the seminaries and sending boards were reformed, which meant that for the SBC, money was now supporting missionaries and seminary professors who would not actively work against the gospel. And so today we are especially excited about how our money is used for pastoral training and for missions—and their partnership with us as we send out missionaries with them and send our young men to their seminaries for training.
And that’s really why we continue to be in not just friendly, but enthusiastic cooperation with them. A church of our size benefits greatly from this cooperation with the SBC. Because there are 40,000 SBC churches out there contributing to the same institutions—many of which are too small to have their own missionaries, for example—we are able to benefit from this partnership, and contribute to it, in some very unique ways. It’s yet another example of how churches cooperating together can accomplish so much more for the gospel than they could do on their own.
Grace Baptist Church is in friendly cooperation with and contributing toward the causes of the Southern Baptist Convention. As with all SBC churches, GBC understands that its association with the SBC is entirely voluntary. We are thankful for the resurgence of biblical values in the SBC in the 1980s and are pleased to contribute to its causes, including the efforts of the International Missions Board (IMB) to take the gospel to all corners of the earth.
The contributions of GBC and other churches ultimately pool in the SBC’s “Cooperative Program.” Churches both numerically small and great may involve themselves closely in gospel work by helping to fund seminaries, support missionaries, and publish teaching material. Our association with the SBC is a strong one. Each year, GBC gives financially to SBC missions.