I (Ryan) will be blogging a weekly summary of the material we cover in Adult Sunday School during our series “Family Talks”, so vital do I believe these discussions to be to the future of our dear church. This way, you will be able to access and engage with the material any weeks you aren’t able to attend.

As I begin my ministry among you, I want to use Sunday School to take us back to the basics: to remember who we are as a church and seek the Lord for the future he has prepared for us. We will ask, What does it mean that we are a church? What does it mean that the Gospel is the center of our church? What does it mean that we are a Protestant church? A Reformed church? A Presbyterian church? Finally, we will spend an extended period exploring who we are as FPC of Clarksdale, MS, a particular church the Lord has given a particular story and prepared for a particular time and place.

Last week (1-8-17) we discussed what it means that we are a church. Sounds simplistic, I know, but there’s a lot of practical confusion about why the church, as an institution matters. Is “the church” the people or the institution?

We saw that the Bible’s answer to this is “yes.” The church, according to Scripture’s testimony, is “a living institution.” (Check out Ephesians 4:1-16 for more on this.) The church is the people, yes! But it is the people organized according to God’s command.So, the defining feature of an “organized church” isn’t its building, committee-structure, or budget, but its people united by a common faith under the authority of elders, supported by deacons, with every member exercising his/her gifts.  

Elders: When people in the New Testament responded to the Gospel and accepted Christ as Savior, the first matter of business was to organize them together under the care of elders (Titus 1:5). In the PCA, a new church is not called officially called by the name “church” until it has trained and elected elders. Elder is unapologetically an office of authority (Matthew 16:13-201 Timothy 5:17-21Hebrews 13:17). (Although the authority resides not in the men themselves but in God and is relative to their obedience to God.)

In the PCA we distinguish “teaching elders” and “ruling elders”: “teaching elders” more commonly called “pastors” and “ruling elders” being lay ministers called to shepherd and lead (1 Timothy 5:17). Nevertheless, there is only one office; teaching and ruling elders have equal authority.

Elders aren’t perfect (I’m guessing that’s not news!) but they are called to a higher standard and will answer to Jesus one day for your souls and their care for the church He loves. Elders aren’t board members running a non-profit organization that dispenses religious goods; we are Christ’s servants given by Him for your eternal good. Our job isn’t to pander to you so that you will like us, but to encourage you, teach you, challenge you, spur you on in Christ, and even admonish you.

Deacons: The second role that defines Christ’s church is the deacons. The work of deacons is a spiritual work of service and care for the physical needs of the church and the world. Elders are to be so consumed in the work of the Word, prayer, and shepherding that they have need of others to lead the church in caring for physical needs. See Acts 6:1-7.

An active, motivated, passionately compassionate diaconate is a key pillar to the health of Christ’s local church.

You: God’s purpose in giving elders and deacons to his church is not so that they will do the work of ministry themselves, but “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). You are not a mere pew-filler. You are not a mere number. You are a vital, living member of the Body, gifted in particular ways for the good of the other members. Check out Romans 12:3-8 for more on this.

This brings up how utterly foreign to the testimony of the Scriptures and church history is the idea that one can be a committed Christian and not have a committed relationship with a local church. It makes sense to our modern Western minds, so drunk on individualism as we are, but Jesus and the apostles and the giants of our faith across the ages would shake their heads at bewilderment at such a concept.

Church-less Christianity inevitably grows into Christ-less Christianity. The words of Kevin DeYoung have proved demonstrably true in my experience. “The man who attempts Christianity without the church shoots himself in the foot, shoots his children in the leg, and shoots his grandchildren in the heart” (The Hole in Our Holiness, 132).

May we, the people of FPC, value the local church not only for our sakes, but for the sakes of the generations yet to come.

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